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In the midst of World War II, the battle below the seas rages. The Nazi's have the upper edge as the Allies are unable to crack their war codes. That is, until a wrecked U-boat sends out an SOS signal, and the Allies realise this is their chance to seize the 'enigma coding machine'. But masquerading as Nazi's and taking over the U-boat is the smallest of their problems. The action really begins when they get stranded on the U-boat. Written by
The trailer for the movie showed a shot where the German captain reveals that he can speak English. This scene does not appear in the movie. See more »
The "destroyer" is identified as the Z-49. The Z-49 was planned but never built by the German Navy. Had it been built, it would not have been completed until very late in the war, long after the time of the movie. Further, the ship shown in no way resembles a 1936C type of German destroyer. See more »
Lieutenant Andrew Tyler:
If you can't take out that destroyer, the danger is not that some of us may die. It's that some of us may live. These men have seen and heard things that must not be revealed to the enemy - our secrets, such as our radar capabilities, and our understanding of German encryption. If we fall into German hands alive, we will be tortured without mercy. Either you succeed in sinking that ship, or you see to it that none of us survive to be captured.
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This is a review written by a specialist on the U-boat warfare:
First off, I am pleased to say my worst fears were not realized. This movie is not a retelling of the capture of the Enigma machine from U-110 with Americans substituted for British. The only thing the historical incident and the movie have in common is that both include an Enigma machine and a U-boat.
The basic premise of the movie is this: It is spring, 1942. (Although not stated explicitly in the movie, this coincides with the implementation of the 4-rotor Enigma machine and the subsequent intelligence blackout which proved quite inconvenient for the Allies.) Allied intelligence learns that a crippled U-boat is awaiting a rendez-vous with a supply submarine. An American World War I S-class submarine and its crew are disguised to resemble that supply submarine, with the goal of boarding the U-boat and seizing the Enigma. Naturally the operation does not go as smoothly as predicted. The American boarding party ends up trapped on the U-boat and must figure out how to get home with their prize.
The special effects, including sound effects, are good, and there are lots of satisfying explosions and interesting underwater camera views. The plot is a bit predictable, and seems to owe a lot to many previous submarine movies, including Das Boot. There are a few technical issues that purists will notice; for example, American S-boats were not actually equipped with radar, an awful lot of bullets were sprayed around the interior of the U-boat without appearing to damage anything vital, and the plan to open the torpedo tubes at a depth of 200 meters seemed ill-advised, to say the least.
One scene was disturbing, however. Early in the film, the U-boat comes upon a lifeboat full of British sailors. The U-boat commander orders his gunner to kill them all, because "The Führer has ordered us not to pick up survivors." It is disappointing to see the myth of U-boats executing occupants of lifeboats perpetuated yet again. The truth about the Laconia order is it did forbid picking up survivors but did not specify that they be shot, simply that they not be rescued or aided as well as the only case on record in World War II in which a U-boat purposely fired on survivors in the water.
In general, this is a good action film. It's no Das Boot, but then I knew it wasn't going to be. For one thing, it lacks the emotional impact and suspense of Das Boot; also, the grim wartime mood that pervaded Das Boot is absent from this movie. In fact, for U-571 the World War II setting seems almost incidental, as the plot could be adjusted easily to fit any other twentieth century war, real or fictional, involving submarines.
In sum, this is not really a World War II movie. It's a submarine movie with nonstop action and plenty of explosions.
29 April, 2000: One more thing which needs to be mentioned. In an interview in the 23 April Washington Post, the director, Jonathan Mostow, states that the movie Das Boot was "based on a lie" because "[...] it pretended that the captains and crews were submariners first, and only incidentally Nazis. They were dedicated Nazis; they had to be to fight that hard."
As anyone familiar with U-boat history knows, this is nonsense. It is well known that the U-boat arm was the least political of any of the German military branches in World War II. While some U-boat men were indeed confirmed Nazis, many were not. Men fight hard in every war, not for reasons of ideology, but for reasons of personal survival and out of a sense of duty and obligation to their group or unit. Mostow's opinion on this particular topic is just that - an opinion, apparently not founded on any knowledge of U-boat history or military psychology
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