Ossus Library Index Action Movie Index


Directed by Jonathan Mostow (2000, Universal Pictures)
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, and Harvey Keitel

A group of Navy sailors get stranded on a damaged German U-boat after a mission to obtain an encryption device fails.



4 stars

May 20th, 2000 in the Theatre

    A true action film, in the claustrophobic environment of a submarine, where all the psychological effects are put to good use. 

The story is really about Lieutenant Pierce, who has just been denied his own command.  His CO doesn't think he can put the lives of his shipmates to risk if necessary.  By the end, he does have that ability, and the crew respects him. 

Pierce is the executive officer on his sub.  And the crew loves him.  He would do anything and everything for them.  And he does.  But their shore leave is interrupted by an important call.  They have to leave within the hour.  Their mission is to dock with a crippled German submarine, posing as its repair and resupply crew, steal a coding device which the Allies need desperately, and get out of there, sinking the sub. 

And it nearly goes off without a hitch.  But in a fantastic scene which was spoiled in the previews, the American sub is blown out of the water by the real resupply sub, which has arrived earlier than expected.  It is still a great scene.  It is marred a little by Pierce actually seeing his Skipper dying in the water, telling him to get under water. 

They manage to destroy the resupply sub, but run down their sub's batteries by the end of the chase.  They are now dead in the water.  Fortunately, they have a first class engineer with them, who gets one of the Diesel engines running in no time. 

But by this time, the crew is beginning to question Pierce's ability to command.  He is leading them towards Greenland, which will make them cross enemy routes.  In their crippled U-boat, they are sure to be destroyed. 

But Pierce holds them at bay, until they are spotted by an airplane piloted by Germans.  It recognizes the sub as friendly, so it doesn't open fire, but it causes a rift in the command of the sub. 

Unfortunately, the plane was just a scout for a German destroyer.  And the sub has only one torpedo left, but it is jammed in the launch tube.  Decision after decision shows Pierce to be more and more desperate.  The destroyer starts shooting at them (after Pierce orders their radio destroyed, in a great example of precision shooting), so they dive the sub.  The destroyer starts dropping depth charges, so they dive deeper.  And deeper and deeper.  They are rocked by the depth charges, which nearly tear the sub apart. 

The explosions were almost too much!  The director decided to shoot the explosions from various angles, which was really neat.  We got to see the depth charges from below the water (small circles), from above (giant uprising of water), and we get to hear and feel them from inside the sub.

As Pierce dives the sub down to 200 meters (!), the Chief of operations remarks that the Germans sure know how to build a submarine!  And that's when things start falling apart.  The pressure is just too much.  Pipes start busting, and the bulkheads are about to collapse. 

Pierce wants that last torpedo tube fixed by the time they surface, but there is actually doubt that this will happen.  Air pressure in the tube is not enough to propel the torpedo, and they need somebody small to crawl into the flooded area and shut off the leaking air valves.  Pierce chooses one of his men, knowing full well that he could die in there.  It is the toughest choice of his career, and we know it. 

The crucial moment, or course, comes when the boy can't reach the last leaking valve.  As they are his by shell after shell, the piping give way, crushing him, but also getting him within the distance he needs to shut off the valve.  In a moment which was not acted or directed very well, he does it.  So the torpedo tube is pressurized, and they are able to blow the destroyer up.  It is a very exciting moment, with spectacular pyrotechnic effects. 

So they are safe, but they have to abandon the submarine.  They all board a raft, and watch as the sub sinks.  The finale kind of makes you shake your head, with an American aircraft spotting them, but it is supposed to make us realize that they got home fine.  But it does rather make one think of Independence Day or Armageddon.  Not good for the final seconds of a great movie. 

Another pair of scenes also made me wince.  It was designed to show how Truly Evil the Nazi Germans were, because they murdered a boatful of surrendering British troops.  But when the Americans take over the U-boat, they transfer all the German troops over to their sub.  After the American sub is destroyed, they find a single survivor, the German captain.  They don't know he is the captain, but he proves to be a liability, and nearly gets them killed.  Even after he sabotages the boat, they keep him alive.  This is probably counter to what would actually take place. 

The music is what really made this movie a winner.  The themes were perfectly melded to the action sequences.  And there was barely a lull in the action.  I don't know how well the movie would have turned out without this great music. 

The explosions were another great part of the movie.  They rocked the sub so often that I thought we would get sea-sick.  But I wonder if there weren't too many of them, by the end.  Could the sub really have held out from a barrage like they did? 

So the encryption device would presumably make it to the US, and the Germans would not know it was missing, because it would be assumed that their two subs and the destroyer were destroyed in normal World War Two battles.  But I wonder what happened to the airplane?  Would it have transmitted information about the sub to the rest of its command?

I guess we aren't supposed to think about those things.  In any case, this was great fun.


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