Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Yanks are at it again, winning the war. In the early Forties, when U-boats were causing havoc in the Atlantic, the Royal Navy was desperate to capture an Enigma code machine that the Germans carried as part of their equipment. Eventually, after a series of daring attempts, they succeeded. In U-571, it is Matthew McConaughey and his all-American crew that does the business.

Writer/director Jonathan Mostow, fresh from the tension of Breakdown, achieves thrillibility in what has become a niche genre - the sweaty-guys-in-a-sardine-tin movie - with Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot way out in front. Once a sub has dived and depth charges are raining down, there isn't much anyone can do but hang in there, pray and staunch the water when the pipes burst.

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The script is loaded with wait-for-it lines, such as the skipper (Bill Paxton) asking McConaughey, whom he doesn't think is ready for promotion yet, whether he would be prepared to sacrifice a member of the crew to save the ship. McConaughey hesitates and, of course, later, is faced with exactly that situation.

Harvey Keitel, miscast as an enlisted man, sits down with his commanding officer and asks, "Permission to speak freely?" Such formality seems out of place in the middle of a sea battle. Permission granted, Keitel tells McConaughey that if he wants the respect of his men, he must never show uncertainty. "A captain always knows what to do, even when he doesn't."

The story is exciting enough. The acting depicts fear and determination - no shades of emotion, no humour. McConaughey has a skinhead haircut that doesn't suit him and looks uncomfortable most of the time. As the man in charge of a beaten-up old sub that only half works, under attack from a German destroyer, is it surprising that he's short on small talk? Someone should have told him that the two-handed pistol grip, as applied to every TV cop flick, is a post-war technique.

You miss John Mills and Dickie Attenborough cracking jokes in the engine room. What use is nostalgia if all you're getting between explosions is "My pop was a fisherman" style reminiscences?

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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American sailors attempt to capture a code machine from a German U-Boat.
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Symon Parsons ***

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Writer: Jonathan Mostow

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi, Jake Weber, David Keith

Year: 2000

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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