If you've never seen a submarine drama before, then U-571
will probably make a good impression as a tautly choreographed piece of entertainment. A strong cast led by Matthew McConaughey's sympathetic Lt. Tyler undertakes a perilous mission to seize a German Enigma machine, and encounter many dangers along the way. For anyone who has seen any other submarine movie, however, U-571
quickly turns into a succession of genre clichés: there's the depth-charge dropping scene, the diving so deep the reading goes off the scale scene, the near-mutinous tension among the crew, the sacrificial lamb who must save the day, the one torpedo left in the tube, assorted pipes bursting, and so on. The formula is set up by Bill Paxton's hard-nosed Captain, who tells Tyler what he must be prepared to do if he ever has his own command: a series of prophecies that, of course, all come true before long. From then on it's predictable action all the way.
Where U-571 scores highly is in its wealth of period detail: every cog and lever that operates the U-boat is dwelt upon lovingly. It looks and feels completely authentic. The central historical inaccuracy, that the first naval Enigma machine was in fact captured by a British ship, is apologetically mentioned in the end credits. The movie makes no claim to be a true story, admittedly, but other fictional dramas have dealt with the same subject more effectively. Try the magnificent Das Boot, for example, then The Cruel Sea, after which U-571 will seem very unambitious indeed. --Mark Walker
On the DVD: The director himself interviews two naval officers, one American and one British. The British officer is Lt. Commander David Balme, the very man who captured the first naval Enigma machine from U-110 in 1941; the American is the movie's technical adviser, Vice Admiral Patrick Hannifin. The Enigma machine itself is described briefly by an American cryptologist. There's also an old American documentary short about the 1944 capture of the U-505 in the Pacific and a "making of" featurette. The director provides a detailed commentary. --Mark Walker