Only one movie this week as Phil’s shifts have ruined my Saturday night, so Phil’s Thursday retro-movie wins. This week he dug deep in the DVD cupboard and came out with U-571 (2000) the alternative title should have been ‘how the Americans won the war again by completely trashing history and pissing off the Brits and the Germans’. 🙂
Directed by Johnathan Mostow who also had a hand in writing the script along with David Ayer and Sam Montgomery. It has an all star cast, Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, and (strangely) Jon Bon Jovi.
So to the plot. Spoilers in this one 🙂
We are in the Battle of the Atlantic again and start out with a German U-boat, the 571 of the title. It sinks a merchant ship from an allied convoy and then gets pulverised with depth charges from a British destroyer. Spectacular filming of the underwater scenes abound, am sure it’s all models and filmic jiggery-pokery but they did it really well. Anyhoo, the sub is severely damaged and floating in the water waiting for another U boat to come and help them.
The Americans have intercepted the radio transmission from the 571 asking German Command to send help, and decide to send their own submarine the S-33, dressed up with German markings to go and meet the damaged sub, then take it over and capture it’s Enigma coding machine. McConaughey plays Andy Tyler, the first officer who is a bit peeved because he has been turned down for command of his own sub due to his Captain, Lieutenant Commander Dahlgren (Paxton) who thinks he’s not ready yet.
So off they go, and in the middle of a storm they send a landing party off to 571, (the Captain of which has recently shot a boat full of survivors from the destroyer they sank). The landing party consists of Tyler, Lieutenant Michael Hirsch the intelligence chap in charge of the mission, (Jake Weber) Lieutenant Pete Emmett (Bon Jovi), Chief Gunner’s Mate Henry Klough (Keitel) and Major Matthew Coonan (David Keith) who is kind of a secret operative I think, that wasn’t clear really, anyway he was in civvies, and a few seamen.
They accomplish the mission, and take over the 571, sending the captured crewmen over to the S-33. They set explosives and are just about to leave for the 33 with the Enigma machine, when the second German U boat turns up and torpedos the 33, another spectacular piece of filming! The Captain is blown into the water but refuses to be rescued as he tells Tyler to dive and get out of the way of the new U boat. Tyler takes command of the 571 and after submerging he engages the supply U boat and blasts it to smithereens.
They repair the 571 enough to enable it to sail and Tyler decides to head for Lands End in Cornwall, but wouldn’t you know it a German destroyer turns up and starts sending over some crew to help them out (they don’t know the Americans have taken it over) so Tyler has his gunner shoot out the destroyers radio tower so they can’t report what’s going on. The destroyer then attacks, Tyler dives and there’s more spectacular depth charge action.
Tyler sends up some oil, a dead body and bits and bobs to try and make the destroyer Captain think they’ve succeeded in finishing off the 571, but the Captain isn’t having it, more depth charges occur and the 571 is sinking to -600 feet. They have to have an uncontrolled ascendence and are frantically trying to repressurise the last of their torpedo tubes, with a crewman sacrificing himself to do so, and so they use the last torpedo and sink the destroyer. Yay.
The 571 is now totalled and sinking, so the crew that are left get in a lifeboat, having saved the enigma machine and are picked up by a US Catalina Flying boat.
What a hoot! The interior shots in the submarines are excellent, very much like Das Boot which we’ve watched recently, and the underwater stuff is equally good. I don’t know what McConaughey was at, he had his gob and eyes wide open for most of the film, being all OTT intense the whole way through, and Jake Weber was similarly afflicted. Keitel was his cool self and Bon Jovi was adequate. BJ’s character was decapitated by flying debris initially, giving the movie an ‘R’ rating in the US, (squeamish lot 😀 ) so was re-shot to get a PG13, and he just got knocked overboard instead, and didn’t go down in a Blaze of Glory 🤪🤣 but I don’t remember seeing that happen, too much else going on.
The soundtrack was very impressive, as Phil kept mentioning it (it’s his ‘thing’) and the cinematography excellent (Oliver Wood). I was happy to see Matthew Settle playing Ensign Keith Larson, as I have a crush on him from his time playing Spiers in Band of Brothers, sadly he only had a small part in this movie.
My oh my did it cause ructions on release. The Germans were really pee’d off that it showed the U boat sailors shooting survivors as in real life they actually didn’t, and in fact U-boat crewmen are far more often known to have assisted survivors with food, directions and occasionally medical aid.
But it was the Brits who really got naffed off. It wasn’t a historical event at all, as British sailors from HMS Bulldog captured the first naval Enigma machine from U110 in the North Atlantic in May 1941, months before the United States entered the war and three years before the US Navy captured U505 and their Enigma machine. The Allies captured Enigma-related codebooks and machines about fifteen times during the War; all but two of these by British forces. The outrage ended up in prime Ministers Questions when labour M.P Brian Jenkins claimed that the film was an “affront to the memories of the British sailors who lost their lives on this action.” In 2006 the screenwriter David Ayer admitted that U-571 had distorted history, and said that he would not do it again. He was interviewed by BBC Radio 4 and said he “did not feel good” about suggesting that Americans, rather than the British, had captured the naval Enigma cipher: “It was a distortion…a mercenary decision…to create this parallel history in order to drive the film for an American audience. Both my grandparents were officers in the Second World War, and I would be personally offended if somebody distorted their achievements.” The Americans had more than enough heroics of their own to make movies out of, they didn’t really need to steal ours.
Other bits to snigger at- German destroyers were never in the Atlantic and remained in European waters, in the movie the German destroyer lets off more than eighty depth charges when in reality they only carried around thirty. The destroyer ‘pings’ the 571 which couldn’t happen in reality as the German destroyers didn’t have active sonar. Oh I must stop, there’s so much wrong it’s laughable.
But, and it’s a big BUT, the movie is really enjoyable for all that, great pacing and attention to detail (at least in the interior sub scenes) fab explosions, wonderful cinematography and soundtrack, and lots of good old American derring-do, which I must confess, I am very partial to 🙂 .
It did very well at the box office, and critics liked it, at least in the US 🙂 and it was nominated for 2 awards at the Oscars, for sound editing and sound mixing, it won the editing award, so Phil pegged it on the nose 🙂