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U-571

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Movie propaganda

Heroes are ordinary men who do extraordinary things in extraordinary times.

Dive... dive... dive...!

The biggest and best submarine film to be released in the past decade: you won't come up for air until it's over!

It is 1942 and Hitler's infamous U-boats are causing havoc in the Atlantic, sinking more than 1000 Allied ships and getting closer to the USA coast every day. The problem is that allied forces cannot break the German's notorious Enigma code. If only they could get their hands on the mysterious Enigma machine, the whole tide of the war will change.

When a German U-boat is found crippled in the mid-Atlantic, the USA Navy realises it's time to pounce and capture the Enigma... but it's a race against time as they try to get to the damaged sub before a German reconnaissance mission does.

Theatrical propaganda posters

U-571 image

Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film World War II submarine Enigma

Persons of interest

  • Matthew McConaughey .... Lieutenant Andrew Tyler
  • Bill Paxton .... Lieutenant Commander Mike Dahlgren
  • Harvey Keitel .... Chief Petty Officer Henry Klough
  • Jon Bon Jovi .... Lieutenant Pete Emmett
  • David Keith .... Major Matthew Coonan
  • Thomas Kretschmann .... Captain-Lieutenant Gunther Wassner
  • Jake Weber .... Lieutenant Hirsch
  • Jack Noseworthy .... Seaman Bill Wentz
  • Tom Guiry .... Seaman Ted "Trigger" Fitzgerald
  • Will Estes .... Seaman Ronald "Rabbit" Parker
  • Terrence "TC" Carson .... Steward Eddie Carson
  • Erik Palladino .... Seaman Anthony Mazzola
  • Dave Power .... Seaman Charles "Tank" Clemens
  • Derk Cheetwood .... Seaman Herb Griggs, Helmsman
  • Matthew Settle .... Ensign Keith Larson
  • Jonathan Mostow .... Storywriter
  • Jonathan Mostow .... Storywriter
  • Sam Montgomery .... Screenwriter
  • David Ayer .... Screenwriter
  • Jonathan Mostow .... Screenwriter
  • Jonathan Mostow .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

This is the submarine war movie. Just in case you get confused with all the other war movies that are coming out these days.

Funnily enough I was reviewing The Hunley around the same time that I saw U-571. It's a made for cable movie about the first submarine used in (the USA civil) war and contains many of the same elements that U-571 does. That's the nature of the beast: there are only so many stories that can be told aboard a tin can stuck under the sea. Most films will, unfortunately, get the story wrong; only a handful will get it right. The hunt for Red October, Crimson tide and seminal Das boot are three that have the right stuff (if you're interested).

Now as you all know, I grew up on films about WWII, with submarines being a major factor in my understanding of war and how much fun it is. I have always been fascinated by the thought of a bunch of men stuck in a leaky metal tube for days and weeks and months, their only defence the ability to hide under the water. Sometimes. Being a very tall and somewhat boofy bloke, there was never any chance of him being a submariner but that just made the good films all the more sweet.

Oh, hang on, this is supposed to be about U-571.

*Takes more medication*

U-571 is a tense, exciting, action adventure about men and boys risking everything for something someone back home told them they need to do. Like any wartime submarine flick there is depth-charging, leaking, torpedoing, Dive! Dive! Dive!, exploding, dying and sacrificing. Despite having seen all this many times before, I was still gripping the armrests of my seat from all the tension and that's a good sign.

The drama in this flick doesn't come from the niceties of a war but the necessities of a man. Lieutenant Tyler has just failed an application for promotion to Captain because, in the words of his skipper, he just isn't ready. It takes a while to find out why he isn't ready, but once you do, you'll know that he'll have to face this test before the film is out.

It's a sign of the times that this was also the (secondary) plot for an episode of Star trek: the next generation, which is effectively a series about a big metal tube travelling around an inhospitable environment for days and weeks and months (check out the first original series pilot, The cage, and The balance of terror, for some obvious submarine parallels), called Disaster. Lieutenant Commander Deanna Troi wanted a promotion to full Commander; to achieve that she had to pass a test problem for which there seemed to be no answer. With hints and clues from her supervisor she realised that the only way to solve the problem (an imminent explosion which would destroy the ship) was to order a crewman to expose himself to lethal radiation so he could fix the problem. Save friend and everyone dies or kill friend and save the ship. No easy way out. It's this same dilemma that faces Tyler and why he's not ready for promotion. Loving the men in your command is one thing but being able to kill them is another.

*Removes plastic pointed ears*

Matthew is compassionate, intelligent and soulful in this film, which is good because that's what his character requires. He doesn't have to be as good-looking as he is but it doesn't hurt Tyler's charisma or reputation any. Probably helps pull in the female demographic, too. While everyone else is just a support or challenge to Tyler's journey, they all bring something to contribute to the story. Bill is a good mentor, Harvey is Harvey in a boat (doesn't take his clothes off this time, fortunately), but the best supporting roles are filled by Jake Weber and Jack Noseworthy. Jake plays the fish out of water as a sailor who's never been to sea. His role is intelligence, not operations: that makes him a valuable flaw, flaws being valuable because they let you see the worth of the real thing. Jack is the half-German radio man who hides his ancestry from the guys because he loves them so much and doesn't want them to hate him, but has to use it to save them from the Germans. Wentz's journey parallels that of Tyler, echoing the difficult nature of decisions he must make.

All in all, U-571 is a creditable contribution to the genre. It's damned entertaining, visually entrancing and full of cool explosions, bleeding and dying. I like explosions, bleeding and dying... blame it on the media. See this video while it's hot off the presses.

FYI: The Enigma Machine was captured by a British submarine, not an American one, not that reality ever got in the way of a Hollywood movie script.

Security censorship classification

M (Low level violence)

Surveillance time

112 minutes (1:52 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

DVD retail: 29 November 2000
VHS retail: 13 May 2001

Cinema surveillance images

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