Director: Jonathan Mostow
Writer: Jonathan Mostow, Sam Montgomery, and David Ayer
Cinematographer: Oliver Wood
Producer: Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis
by Jon Cvack
I’ve seen this movie more times than I can remember. It arrived amidst the WWII revival, as Saving Private Ryan kicked off the genre’s return, and films like Enemy At the Gates, Pearl Harbor, and When Trumpets Fade followed into the new millennium. It was ripped to pieces for its historical embellishment, with a former U-Boat Captain stating that the only thing this film and actual U-Boat histories have in common is that they both contain U-Boats. For the longest time I never really enjoyed it, thinking that by comparison to other WWII films it fell far short. I probably hadn’t seen it in over six or seven years since the last viewing, during which time Matthew McConaughey’s rose from Rom Com Stoner to a premiere talent. My perspective shifted, seeing McConaughey’s performance with fresh eyes as an energetic powerhouse, rather than a failed attempt by Hollywood’s Hottest. Perhaps it’s the endless crop of remake garbage that’s punching up these older films, as we realize perhaps, comparatively speaking, they weren’t all that bad; or perhaps their peers were so good, that the reverse equation made them play poorly.
One thing I love about revisiting films I grew up with is their ability to shift your focus. While before I imagined serving as the lowly private, forced to make decisions without fully grasping the implications, now I empathized with Lt. Andrew Tyler’s (McConaughey) struggle with getting overlooked for promotion. He wants to command his own ship, and his Commanding Officer Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton) doesn’t think he’s ready. Given that I’m around Tyler’s age, the disappointment struck home - I’ve been rejected from jobs, promotions, raises, film festivals; where it all looked good and then crashed and burned. It was strange how I never even recalled this subplot, which is as classic as it gets in that the young and upcoming prodigy fails to get the opportunity he’s been waiting for, then finding himself suddenly facing the responsibility when disaster strikes.
Dahlgren doesn’t think that Tyler’s ready to make the tough decisions a commander is responsible for; namely, the willingness to sacrifice lives when it’s for the greater good of the country or crew. As all of this is being discussed, they get word of a Top Secret mission, in which an American Submarine crew is to take over a German U-Boat in order to rescue the ailing crew which has a sophisticated encryption machine (as seen in the Medal of Honor video game series) that could turn the tides of war, if retrieved. The mission is led by the formidable Major Matthew Coonan, Navy Intelligence (James Gammon; who I just saw in Major League II, playing the most intimidating characters in both films). Tyler will act as Dahlgren’s 2nd in Command, leading the crew to the ship, where one of the lowly privates who speaks perfect German will help to work their way past the guards, kill the crew, and take the machine.
Of course the mission goes wrong, as we’re left wondering why a Coonan thinks it’d be easier to train the entire submarine crew to engage in close quarters combat, rather than bringing aboard a small team of his own to execute the mission. They retrieve the encryption machine, but in the distance is a German Battleship that launches a torpedo toward the actual American U-Boat, killing most of the crew, including Dahlgren, who in a final farewell before sinking into the water, instructs Tyler to take charge, providing him with the coveted opportunity to command a ship.
Of course the mission goes wrong, as we’re left wondering why Coonan thinks it’d be easier to train the entire submarine crew to engage in close quarters combat, rather than bringing aboard a small team of his own to execute the mission. They retrieve the encryption machine, but in the distance is a German Battleship that launches a torpedo toward the actual American U-Boat, killing most of the crew, including Dahlgren, who in a final farewell before sinking into the water, instructs Tyler to take charge, providing him with the coveted opportunity to command a ship.
Continue on for Part 2...
BELOW: Strap on some headphones for a taste of some Oscar-winning sound design
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Thoughts on films, old and new
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