I have to say this first off – I really do not like Matthew McConaughey. The fact that a movie which features his bongo-ness in practically every frame and continues the sad decline of Bill Paxton’s career can still garner a Full Price Feature can mean only one thing: summer is here, with all the great movies that means. U-571 is a WWII hero’s tale, with Germans and Americans, submarines, sweating tension, explosions, jimmy-rigging, Morse code madness, and more. It’s tight, in every sense. Tight editing, tight story, tight quarters, tight close calls – whoooo!
“When men were men,” as it were, and also when machines couldn’t bail our slacker butts out of the fire. If a similar scenario were set with today’s subs and computers and communications (not to mention nukes), it would have been a bunch of guys at keyboards, boring the socks off us while the camera crew tried to make it interesting and the subs graze the top layers of the Abyss. Not here – U-571 is all pistons and valves and squeaking, leaking war subs, oily men and oilier waters, sinking oil drums full of death and crushing underwater pressure in waters that light can still penetrate.
Wow! Great camera work, cool shots (my favorite is from below U-571 with depth charges exploding above them), Aliensesque music by Richard Marvin, and by gum some serious guts! I had raised a hullabaloo about the 10th century moxie of the 13th Warrior men, but it’s all well and good to get macho when Beowulf (or is it Grendel) is at your door – it’s altogether different in the 20th century, right? But Hitler was the Grendel of that time and these boys are gonna lick him if they have to die trying – and they know and accept they are expendable, something we today just will not put up with (for better or worse). It’s cool. it’s exciting. It’s technically impressive.
Someone once wrote there is an inherent suspense in a submarine, due to the environment and the closeness of the quarters and the dependence on machinery to live – and this no doubt helps the movie along – but I think the script and performances are such that they could have pulled it off in a different environment (though perhaps depth charges are not as effective on the open plain, you see my point) – I even have to admit that McConaughey was very good, which wounds me to the soul. For once, he was cast in a role that used his qualities that have (for me) hurt him in the past – his combination of bravado/swaggering ego and insecurity/modesty. A million movies have been made about someone being thrust into the limelight when they are not ready, but actors usually stay afraid or instantly take charge, and I have to hand it to my fellow Texan, he did right by the role. Those who know me may guess at what a glowing recommendation this is.
Parents who shy away from war movies (read: Saving Private Ryan) will be pleased to see the film garnered a PG-13 rating, and indeed a few events in the first reel suffer for it by having certain event sliced up for family viewing, but it’s basically made clear enough. It kind of lends itself to being more mature, ironically, by gearing itself for a younger audience – my imagined slacker-run nuclear sub from earlier would be filled with Paxton’s Aliens character Hudson, spouting amusing and probably rated R quips until something happens to save the day. We don’t know who will save the day, or even if indeed anyone can or will – everyone in the movie is so ready to die for what they believe, anything can happen. It’s this old-fashioned manliness that makes it such a great film. Go see it – why are you at the computer?
I am starting to notice that in general, the movies I have liked best in the past year usually have in the credits “written and directed by,” and this is no exception. Writer/director Jonathan Mostow did the underrated Breakdown (both jobs) and also directed episode 12 of From the Earth to the Moon. Besides a little B-movie, **that’s it.** Is it true that Hollywood, as a machine, really is responsible for ruining film? Writer submits script to studio, studio buys it, revises it, finds a director who changes it with his vision, add rewrites and meddlesome producers (assuming the director allows it) and the script is often totally different from what the author intended. If it was good enough to get optioned, why wouldn’t it be good enough to be shot? Writer/directors can maintain the integrity of the story and it does show up on the big screen – audiences are responding by flocking to story-driven movies like they haven’t since the early 70’s – and they seem to care less about flashy special effects (World is Not Enough) or big stars doing nothing (Drowning Mona).
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/21/00
Time in minutes 120
Director Jonathan Mostow
Studio Universal Pictures