It is 1942 and the German submarine fleet is heavily engaged in the so-called "Battle of the Atlantic" to harass and destroy British shipping. With better escorts of the Destroyer Class, however, German U-Boats have begun to take heavy losses. "Das Boot" is the story of one such U-Boat crew, with the film examining how these submariners maintained their professionalism as soldiers and attempted to accomplish impossible missions, all the while attempting to understand and obey the ideology of the government under which they served. Written by
Anthony Hughes <email@example.com>
What impresses me the most about the film, as the title makes apparent, is that it's a German made film about a German U-boat. Patriotism for my own country would tend to make me hate the crew on this ship by definition (especially if portrayed as typical mindless killing machine Nazis), but these characters are so well developed and played like human-beings facing difficult decisions that I find myself sympathizing with these guys.
I love the flow and pacing of the Director's Cut; it takes its time, and does not feel like typical Hollywood formula "first major plot point at minute 12" cookie-cutter routine. Das Boot gives us plenty of time to know these characters, discover how they kill time while waiting for orders, how they feel about their job and each other. Then when the action finally starts: how they deal with the possibility of dying deep underwater, how they react to the sounds of a sub going deeper than it should, the look on their faces as a destroyer is heard pinging them, and dozens of little personality quirks--subtle details that bring the crew to life. It truly does feel like an epic about a submarine crew, and I'm interested in some day viewing the 6 hour TV version.
The underwater battles somewhat remind me of Sergio Leone in that Wolfgang Peterson takes forever and a day to get the fights started. Unlike Leone, once the torpedos are launched and the depth charges dropped, the cat-and-mouse game is ongoing and relentless, but never boring.
And despite the fact that most of the film takes place inside a cramped submarine, Das Boot is never boring to look at; in fact, it's a visually spectacular film (given the dated special effects, who hold up reasonably well and add to the old-school charm). And the freedom of the camera in those tight corridors came as an incredibly pleasant surprise. The color and composition of the shots in those tight quarters -- particularly upon approaching the first destroyer when we get the first real glimpse of the interior prepped for war -- it is both haunting and beautiful.
Jurgen Prochnow delivers the most believable performance of a ship captain I've ever seen on film. All the emotions register on his face--his concern for his own life, ship, and crew; his hatred for the decisions he's forced to make; the disbelieving joy of beating the overwhelming odds--while simultaneously holding it back so the crew sees a strong unmoving man forever in control of the situation. His performance is, in a word, brilliant.
The rest of the cast also delivers amazingly believable performances, and trust me, I could write an entire review on the film's characters and their portrayals. It's both disappointing and satisfying that I'm not given enough space to do so (I wish I could state that about a tenth of the films I've reviewed here on IMDb.) I liked the entire crew of this U-boat, the war correspondent and his character arc as he realizes the truth behind these "heroes", the chief and his longing to return to his wife, Johann and the story of his redemption--all well cast, well acted, and believable.
Another aspect I adored about Das Boot - the controversial scenes simply rolled by with no more or less emphasis than any other statement the film makes. In fact, I saw the film before really reading anything or researching it and found myself somewhat shocked to hear about these "talked about" scenes. Granted, the film does pose some moral questions, but I felt the film handled it with grace and great subtlety, showing what it needs to get the point across and not a step further . . . unlike typical Hollywood where controversy gets bold print, italics, and a highlighter. Maybe I should move to Germany.
I can go on for a long while: Over three hours of wonderful visuals and strong performances, a sparse but great score (this film's lack of music is quite appropriate, making the presence of music much more impactful in its key places). Realistic writing from people who lived the experience first hand. As I said, I can go on for awhile but I'll sum it up and end this review with one statement: Das Boot is the definitive submarine movie.
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