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Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Martha De Laurentiis
Hal Lieberman
Written by Jonathan Mostow (Story)
Sam Montgomery
David Ayer (Script)
Starring Matthew McConaughey
Bill Paxton
Harvey Keitel
Thomas Kretschmann
Jon Bon Jovi
Music by Richard Marvin
Studio Canal+ Image
Distributed by Non-Europe
Universal Pictures
European Sales
Release date(s) April 21, 2000 (2000-04-21)
Running time 116 minutes
Language English/German
Budget $62,000,000 (estimated)
Gross revenue Domestic

U-571 is a 2000 film directed by Jonathan Mostow, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Thomas Kretschmann, Jon Bon Jovi, Jack Noseworthy, Will Estes, and Tom Guiry. In the film, a World War II German submarine is boarded in 1942 by disguised United States Navy submariners, seeking to capture her Enigma cipher machine.

Though the film was generally well received[1] and won an Academy Award, the plot attracted criticism for two reasons: firstly, it was British personnel from HMS Bulldog who first captured a naval Enigma machine, from U-110 in the North Atlantic May 1941, before the United States entered the war. Secondly, German U-boat crews were portrayed in a negative light.

The real U-571 was never involved in any such events, was not captured, and was in fact sunk in January 1944, off Ireland, by a Short Sunderland flying boat from No. 461 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force. The real U-570 was captured by the Royal Navy, although not before the crew had destroyed almost all the secret materials on board.

U-571 was filmed in the Mediterranean Sea, near Rome and Malta.[2]



The film begins with a summary on how the Allies are struggling to stop U-boats from sinking their freighters. The scene transfers to U-571, which torpedoes and sinks a British freighter. The crew are happy with the kill but seconds later, however, the sonar man reports to have detected high speed screws. The captain turns the periscope to sight a destroyer moving in, forcing U-571 to dive. The destroyer drops depth charges; unfortunately for the submarine, the depth charging snaps a fuel line which ignites while the engine crew attempt to patch it, setting them all on fire. Due to the amount of damage sustained, the captain orders U-571 to resurface. The captain learns from his chief who extinguished the fire in the engine room that their batteries are practically flat, both diesel engines are inoperable, and all of their engineering crew are dead. After passing word to conserve electricity, he has his radioman send an SOS to Berlin for aid.

Meanwhile, the crew of a US Navy submarine, S-33 are celebrating the wedding of crewman Larson and leave for 48 hours. During the party, Lt. Tyler enters looking solemn, having been denied his own command. After complaining to Lieutenant Commander Dahlgren (Tyler's commanding officer and captain of the S-33), he is rebuffed and upset to learn that Dahlgren voted against him receiving the promotion. While talking to the chief of the boat, military policemen suddenly arrive to announce the end of their shore leave for a secret mission. All the men arrive at the base to find their boat, the S-33, being modified to resemble a U-Boat. Hirsch, a Naval Intelligence officer who is fluent in German, orders Tyler to locate Radioman Wentz, who is fluent in German due to his immigrant parents. At the same time a Marine named Coonan arrives in a convoy loaded with high explosives. After the S-33 sails, Hirsch explains that the Allies intercepted the disabled U-571's SOS. They are going to masquerade as the resupply ship U-571 called for, board the ship, capture her enigma coding device and then scuttle the U-571. Tyler is skeptical about the scheme working, but goes along.

Back on U-571, attempted repairs fail and the captain is alerted that survivors from the merchant ship he sank have been spotted on a lifeboat asking for asylum. He orders his men to shoot them as their orders are not to spare any survivors. His men reluctantly do so.

During a rainstorm, the S-33 comes across U-571 and sends her boarding party over, led by Coonan. Hirsch temporarily freezes and Wentz is forced to speak German in front of his friends in order for the group to retain their cover until their rafts are tied up. They then take the boat by force, capture the Enigma and begin rounding up the prisoners including the captain. As the prisoners are transferred between ships and the scuttling charges are laid, the S-33 is torpedoed and sunk by the real resupply sub. Lieutenant Commander Dahlgren, wounded in the water, orders his men on the captured U-boat to submerge and save themselves. (This scene was based on an actual incident in World War II: Commander Howard W. Gilmore, USN, after being seriously wounded in an encounter with Japanese destroyer, ordered his men to abandon him on deck and submerge to save the ship and crew. Gilmore was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice. The movie quotes Gilmore's last recorded words: "Take her down.") Coonan, Larson and many others are lost, forcing Tyler to take command and dive the captured U-boat. After struggling with interpreting the German controls they fire a salvo of torpedoes destroying the enemy U-Boat, draining the last of the sub's batteries and spending all but the last torpedo, loaded in the malfunctioning aft torpedo tube. Surfacing, Tyler and his men search for survivors and find two: the black cook from the S-33, Eddy, and a German sailor claiming to be an electrician, but who is actually the captain of U-571.

After repairing one of the diesel engines, thus restoring power and propulsion, Tyler decides to take the disabled submarine to England. Some of the men disagree with Tyler's decision, and Tyler replies with "I don't know," to their questions. Chief Gunner Klough privately rebukes Tyler, saying "A captain always knows what to do, whether he does or not," and also rebukes Mazzola in front of others for openly disagreeing with Tyler. They spot an aircraft, and Mazzola tries to convince Rabbit to fire on the plane against Tyler's orders which appears to be coming in for an attack, but is only scouting for a German destroyer named the Anschluss. The captured German captain breaks free and attacks Tank and kills Mazzola before being subdued. Unaware that the U-571 has been commandeered by Americans, the Anschluss sends over a small contingent to meet and greet with their 'German comrades'. Right before boarders arrive, the crew of the U-571 fires a shot into the ship's radio tower and dives underneath her. The destroyer begins to drop depth charges to try to sink U-571.

Tyler plans to trick the destroyer into stopping by ejecting debris and the body of Mazzola out of an empty torpedo tube, faking their own destruction. U-571 will then surface and hit the ship with their last torpedo.

The German destroyer continues dropping depth charges. U-571, hiding at great depth of below 200 meters, is damaged by the high water pressure. In preventing the submarine from sinking, control of the main ballast tanks are lost and the ship ascends uncontrollably. Mr.Tyler orders Chief to order Trigger to soak himself in the bilge underwater while repressurizing the tubes. While surfacing the German prisoner tries to warn the destroyer in Morse Code that they're not dead yet. Wentz translates the message in German, "I'm U-571. Destroy me." Mr. Hirsch kills the prisoner. U-571 surfaces without a torpedo to fire. The destroyer fires on the ship, which runs using its diesel engine, but takes heavy damage from the destroyer's deck guns and starts to flood.. Trigger does his job and Tank fires the final torpedo. The German ship is destroyed; however 2 new problems encountered the crew. Not only does Trigger drown while carrying out his order, but U-571 has taken severe damage and will not stay afloat for long - the crew abandons ship with the Enigma in tow and watches her sink, seemingly mourning both for their lost crewmates and also for the German sub which ironically saved their lives. Floating aboard an inflatable lifeboat, they are eventually spotted by a US Navy PBY Catalina flying boat.

Critical reception

The film was generally well-received by critics with 63 out of the 93 critics tallied by review aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes giving the film positive reviews.[1]

Controversies regarding content

"Americanization" of real historical events

America's direct participation in World War II commenced in 1941 with Lend-Lease and the Attack on Pearl Harbor, but the history of capturing Enigma machines and breaking their codes had already begun in Europe.

An earlier military Enigma machine had been captured by Polish Intelligence in 1928; Polish intelligence broke the Enigma code in 1932 and gave their findings to Britain and France in 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland.[3]

The first capture of a Naval Enigma machine and associated cipher keys from a U-boat was made on May 9, 1941 by HMS Bulldog of Britain's Royal Navy, commanded by Captain Joe Baker-Cresswell. The U-boat was U-110. In 1942, the British seized U-559, capturing additional Enigma codebooks. "The captured codebooks provided vital assistance to the British cryptographers, led by Alan Turing, at the code-breaking hothouse of Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes."[3]

There were some 15 captures of Naval Enigma material during World War II, all but two by the British. The Canadian Navy captured U-774; the U.S. Navy seized U-505 in June 1944. By this time the Allies were already reading Naval Enigma routinely.

The film caused irritation and anger in Britain. At Prime Minister's Questions, Tony Blair agreed with questioner Brian Jenkins MP that the film was "an affront" to British sailors.[4] In response to a letter from Paul Truswell, MP for the Pudsey constituency (which includes Horsforth, a town proud of its connection with HMS Bulldog), U.S. president Bill Clinton wrote assuring that the film's plot was only a work of fiction.[5]

A written acknowledgment does appear on-screen that the Royal Navy captured the first, and subsequently the vast majority, of the Naval Enigma devices.[6]

David Balme, the British Naval officer who led the boarding party aboard the U-110, expressed positive feedback about the U-571, calling it "a great film"[6] and arguing that the movie would not have been financially viable without being Americanised. The film's producers ignored his request for a message making it clear that the film was a work of fiction, but they did agree to include a message at the film's end mentioning the Royal Navy's role in the capture of U-110.[5]

In 2006, screenwriter David Ayer admitted that U-571 distorted history and stated that he would not do it again.[7] Ayer told BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme that he "did not feel good" about suggesting Americans captured the Naval Enigma cipher rather than the British:[7]

It was a distortion...a mercenary create this parallel history in order to drive the movie for an American audience. Both my grandparents were officers in World War II, and I would be personally offended if somebody distorted their achievements.

Falsely negative portrayal of U-boat sailors

The movie portrays a scene in which the U-boat sailors kill the Allied merchant crewmen who have survived their ship's sinking, in compliance with naval policy and so that the survivors do not report the U-boat position. In contrast to the negative depiction of U-boat men in the movie as well as wartime propaganda, U-boat crewmen in reality were known to assist survivors with food, directions and occasionally medical aid.[8] Assistance to survivors only stopped after Admiral Karl Dönitz issued the "Laconia Order" following a U.S. air attack on U-boats transporting injured survivors under a Red Cross flag in 1942. Some U-boats still occasionally provided aid to their victims. In fact, out of several thousand sinkings of merchant ships in World War II, there is only one documented case of a U-boat crew deliberately attacking the ship's survivors: that of the U-852, whose crew attacked survivors of the Greek ship Peleus.[9]

General inaccuracies

The real U-571, captained by Oberleutnant zur See Gustav Lüssow, was lost with all hands on 28 January 1944, west of Ireland.[10] She was hit by depth charges, dropped from a Short Sunderland Mk III flying boat, EK577, callsign "D for Dog", belonging to No. 461 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The aircraft's commander, Flt Lt Richard Lucas, reported that most of the U-boat's 52 crew managed to abandon ship, but all died from hypothermia. "D for Dog", which was crewed partly by Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel, was based at RAF Pembroke Dock, in Wales.

Another inaccuracy was the presence of the German destroyer in the Atlantic Ocean, as most of the surface fleet of the Kriegsmarine never ventured that far west, and none did so from 1942 onwards. The few exceptions were their capital ships, such as the Admiral Graf Spee, Scharnhorst, and Bismarck.[11]

During the destroyer's depth charge attack more than 80 depth charges are detonated in the film, despite the fact that German destroyers rarely carried more than 30 depth charges during the war.[12]

The German resupply U-boat would most likely not have been sunk by U-571. The only instance of a submerged submarine sinking another submerged vessel was in February 1945 when HMS Venturer sank the U-864 with torpedoes.[13] This would have also been difficult for any World War II submarine to achieve.

Furthermore German Type XIV supply U-boats didn't have torpedo tubes and thus could not have attacked S-33.[14]

The real S-33 was stationed in the Pacific Ocean from June 1942 till the end of the war. She was not sunk during World War II and was sold for scrap in 1946.[15] The S-26 did not sink in a test dive, instead sinking in a collision with a patrol combatant, PC-460, in January 1942.[15]

Deleted scenes

The movie was originally (in the USA) rated "R" due to a scene where Lt. Pete Emmett (Jon Bon Jovi) is decapitated by flying debris. To get a "PG-13", the shot was redone with Emmett this time knocked overboard by flying debris. This left many audience members not knowing what happened to his character. A death scene was also filmed for Maj. Matthew Coonan (David Keith), but the effect did not work well so it was cut from the film.[16]


Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for two awards at the 73rd Academy Awards: Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It won the sound editing award.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "U-571 Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  2. ^ IMDB Filming Locations
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ "U-boat film an 'affront', says Blair". BBC News. 7 June 2000. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  5. ^ a b "Storm over U-boat film". BBC News. 2 June 2000. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  6. ^ a b "Capturing the real U-571". BBC News. 2 June 2000. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  7. ^ a b "U-571 writer regrets 'distortion'". BBC News. 18 August 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  8. ^ Blair, Clay (1996). Hitler's U-Boat War - The Hunters, 1939-1942. Modern Library. pp. 81, 85–86, 144. ISBN 0-679-64032-0. 
  9. ^ "NOVA Online: Hitler's Lost Sub". PBS. 16 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-16. 
  10. ^, "U-571"
  11. ^ - The Movies
  12. ^ Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Destroyers 1939-45. Osprey Publishing. pp. 6. 
  13. ^ - Boats - U-864
  14. ^ - U-boat Types - Type XIV
  15. ^ a b "SS-105 S-1". 30 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  16. ^ "Salon interview with Jonathan Mostow". 4 May 2000. 
  • David Kahn, Seizing the Enigma: the Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1939-1943, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
  • Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, Enigma: the Battle for the Code, Phoenix, 2001.

External links


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