Thursday, 2 August 2012

U-571 (Film Review)

“America wins the war.”
There, that’s it, that’s all you need to know about this. I could try breaking you into this by going through the good points in this flick, perhaps some of the history behind it, even the praise it has been given but no. That one line there sums up this film - it's an embarrassment to World War II films, one easily on par with George Lucas’ cinematic blight Red Tails. You know something is wrong with when Captain America, which features one American superhuman vs Nazis armed with superweapons of Norse gods, manages to be more historically accurate than one based upon real life events. At least in Captain America there was the acknowledgement that other countries were fighting the Axis forces.
Right, as I can’t spend the whole review ranting here’s the plot; in 1942 an American submarine during World War II is making its way across the Atlantic. Its target – A downed but still active German U-Boat named U-571. Its mission – Steal the U-Boat’s Enigma machine and get it back to the closest allied port AKA the United Kingdom. If you have any amount of historical knowledge, you’re probably staring at this screen in a mixture of rage and disbelief right now. For those not in the know here’s a few reasons why, all related to that one date 1942. The real U-571 was not captured but in fact sunk off of the coast of Ireland two years after this film is set and the first enigma machine was captured years before it’s set. Atop of all this, not only by the time the film is set the Allies had in fact captured multiple Enigma machines, codebooks and cracked the whole code long before the United States became involved.
All of which was accomplished without any involvement from the country this film glorifies and heavy involvement from the British Royal Navy and Polish Intelligence. Both of who were crucial to the war effort in gaining such devices. In fact the original script delivered a “screw you” specifically to the British by having the only reason we ended up with an Enigma machine and not the USA was due to a lack of fuel. People, this is just the basic synopsis, it keeps getting worse from here.
The acting is, well, not great at best. It consists of mostly B-movie actors, not an entirely bad thing in itself, but when Jon Bon Jovi is playing a major character you know you’re in for some bad performances. Even if that weren’t the case I don’t even think BRIAN BLESSED could make any of this dialogue enjoyable. It can be so bombastic and has so little self-awareness that you can get lines which have you openly yelling “WHAT!” at the screen. Then most likely rewinding just to be sure you heard it right before yelling again. A standout example of this whole damn thing is the facepalming moment when the German U-boat crew is captured and black actor T.C. Carston yells “It’s your first time looking at a black man ain’t it? Get used to it!!” It’s almost as if the writer had next to no knowledge of historical events or political attitudes.
If there is actually something worth praising it’s that a lot of the environments and visual effects are remarkably good. They look very genuine, and both on the surface and in the sub itself it’s hard to pick out anything which looks unrealistic or drags you out of the film. Perhaps the only thing which might be seen as breaking the atmosphere once in a while is the lighting in some scenes. While most of the U-boat is shown to have a dark grimy look, there are a few standout moments in which very bright clear lighting is used to show scenes. This just breaks the whole feeling for the film and makes things look inconsistent, not to mention cheap. That’s really it as far as good things go. The soundtrack sounds very generic and every time a character opens their mouth or an event happens, the film just becomes all the dumber. It did at points become so ludicrous that I was briefly tempted to recommend this film as an unintentional comedy until I learned of one thing.
This related to the portrayal of the German crews as being baby eating two dimensional evil overlords who would have Sinestro saying “Dude, tone it down”. Initially I just put this down to the writing quality of the rest of the film, and that whoever did this was incapable of creating something more complex than a morality play for five year olds. Then I found the opinions of the director, Jonathan Mostow, in an interview back in 2000 relating to the acclaimed German miniseries Das Boot. In the interview he claimed it was “based on a lie” and that “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.” Yes, the director believed that showing the crews on the opposite side of the war as people rather than outright monsters was wrong. Ignoring that the U-Boat arm of the German Navy was by far the least political of the whole war there were multitude of reasons they might have had for serving in the military. Just keep his comments in mind if you see the opening scene of the film where the ruthless German captain guns down unarmed British sailors. Oh yeah, the British navy is actually in this but all they do is get slaughtered. Charming.
Even with that last bit before the credits noting the Royal Navy’s victories and the inaccuracy of this film, there’s nothing to make it worth watching. At best it’s inaccurate, brainless and badly put together, at worst it is outright insulting. Most of those who tend to defend this film are the same ones claim America “won” the First World War and that the promotional campaign Assassin’s Creed III is in no way racist or offensive.
Really, there is no reason to see this. If you’re looking for semi-historically accurate films just watch the vastly better Enemy at the Gates or Last Samurai. If you’re looking for a good World War II submarine story, just look for a copy of Das Boot or The Enemy Below. Really, don’t go spending cash on this nonsense.

U-571 and all related characters and media are owned by Universal Pictures.

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