First a little factual history: the first Enigma machine was captured by the British Navyby the destroyer HMS Bulldog, along with destroyers HMS Aubretia and HMS Broadwayon May 9, 1941, from the German U-boat U110. The U.S. Navy did not capture an Enigma machine until June 4, 1944, when U505 was attacked and forced to the surface where she was subsequently captured by Task Group 22.3 which included the aircraft carrier USS Guadalcanal and the destroyers USS Pillsbury, Pope, Flaherty, Jenks and Chatelain.
Knowing this, I was still eager to see U571, spouse in tow, because as a submariner (I rode attack subs for 10 of my 15 years in the Navy, and even though I am retired, I will always consider myself part of the silent service), I am always anxious to see to see a good submarine flick! And although some poetic license was taken with the historical facts and submarine survival odds, I enjoyed the movie nonetheless.
I can remember when Hunt For Red October came out all of the bubbleheads (that is what submariners are called in the Navy), packed the base theater to standing room only to see it. Though none of us would say so in mixed company, and were reluctant to voice it even among ourselves this movie hit home. And so it was with U571; not the plot line, or even the characters, who I cared next to nothing about, it was the action that had me on the edge of my seat. The fear and uncertainty displayed on the faces of all when the depth charges were going off and the submarine was sinking below recommended depth was something I could relate to.
And although some may consider the dilemma Mathew McConaughey s character faced clichéd, it is an all to real reality for hundreds of Navy captains; it is said that the loneliest job in the navy is that of a commanding officer, the Captain. He must remain detached from the rest of the crew in order to do his job, and I think that struggle was depicted in this movie with welcome candor. So too the role of the Chief of The Boat, Harvey Kitel character. As any Chief Petty Officer, active or retired, will tell you, the Navy would not run without them, period! They are indispensable to junior and not so junior officer alike. They, not the officers know the pulse and mood of the crew.
A word or two about the depth charges: because the destroyer captain could not know for certain at what depth the submarine lay (sub hunting was anything by an exact science during the opening salvos of WWII), the charges were set to go off at different depths in the hopes of catching the submarine. Destroyers would most often turn in a wide circle deploying depth charges as she turned. So the pounding U571 took from the depth charge was believable in that respect. What is not believable is that the submarine would have survived the experience of so many depth charges close aboard and still remained a viable functioning machine!
And about deep diving: submarines are designed with a crush depth a depth they theoretically cannot decent past with out imploding. This crush depth can be exceeded and the submarine and her crew can live to tell about it. How far past crush depth a submarine can decent to is based on how well built she is and what materials were used in her construction. So the scene where U571 descended beyond crush depth is plausible.
Over all from a fictional point of view U571 was a good submarine flick with truckloads of action and suspense. I for enjoyed the moviehistorical inaccuracies asidefor what it was: a deadly look at the not so pretty side of war. A side where men, good men, get killed, heros are made, and good always seems to triumph over evil.
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About the reviewer
Vincent Martin (vemartin)
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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Faithful to the conventions of the World War II genre, Mostow's (BREAKDOWN) submarine thriller pays earnest homage to the pluck and determination of ordinary people forced to overcome extraordinary odds. The mostly young and inexperienced crew of the S-33 is deployed on a top secret, high-priority mission to intercept a disabled German u-boat (the titular U-571) and capture the ship's encryption system--the Enigma--in order to crack the Nazi's communication codes and hasten an allied victory in the North Atlantic. Racing against a German rescue effort, the S-33 stages a daring raid on the U-571. But after capturing the U-571, the Americans find themselves its prisoner as they must pilot the leaky, disabled vessel through hostile enemy waters. McConaughey (EDTV, DAZED AND CONFUSED) leads a strong cast (Keitel - HOLY SMOKE, Paxton - A SIMPLE PLAN) in this fast-paced, tense, submarine adventure.