Theatrical Release Poster
|Directed by||Jonathan Mostow|
|Produced by||Dino De Laurentiis
Martha De Laurentiis
|Screenplay by||Jonathan Mostow
|Story by||Jonathan Mostow|
Jon Bon Jovi
|Music by||Richard Marvin|
|Edited by||Wayne Wahrman|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures
U-571 is a 2000 war 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.
The film was financially successful and generally well-received by critics in the USA and won an Academy Award for sound editing. The fictitious plot attracted substantial criticism since, in reality, it was British personnel from HMS Bulldog who first captured a naval Enigma machine (from U-110 in the North Atlantic in May 1941), months before the United States had even entered the war. The anger over the inaccuracies even reached the British Parliament, where Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that the film was an "affront" to British sailors.
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.
During a storm, the S-33 comes across U-571 and sends a boarding party over. After securing the ship and transporting the captured crew back to the American S-33 sub, the S-33 gets sunk by the arrival of a German resupply sub. The captain of the S-33, Lieutenant Commander Dahlgren, wounded in the water, orders his men on the captured U-boat to submerge. Lieutenant Tyler takes command of the enemy U-boat and dives to engage the resupply sub in an underwater battle before destroying it.
After making repairs and restoring power Tyler decides to route the disabled submarine to Land's End in Cornwall, England. They are spotted by a German plane which is unaware that the U-571 has been commandeered by Americans; a nearby German destroyer sends over a small contingent but right before boarders arrive, Tyler gives orders to fire a shot from the deck gun, destroying the German ship's radio room, and preventing it from reporting that the capture of a German sub and its Enigma machine and code books. The sub dives underneath the German ship, which then begins to drop depth charges to sink U-571.
Tyler attempts to trick the destroyer into stopping its attack by ejecting debris and a corpse out of a torpedo tube, faking their own destruction. The German destroyer continues dropping depth charges. U-571, hiding at below 600 feet (180 m), is damaged by the high water pressure. Control of the main ballast tanks is lost and the ship ascends uncontrollably. Tyler orders crewman Trigger to submerse himself in the bilge underwater to repressurize the torpedo tubes.
Trigger uses an air hose to enter the flooded compartment. He closes the air valve to the torpedo tubes, but a second leak and broken valve are found, which Trigger can't reach. U-571 surfaces, unable to fire its last torpedo. The destroyer fires on the ship, which is heavily damaged and begins to flood. The first hit causes pipes to collapse, pinning Trigger's leg, after he has left the air hose behind. Unable to turn back, he reaches for the valve and closes it before he dies. The second the pressure is available, Tyler orders Tank to fire the final torpedo. The German destroyer is destroyed. As the crew sigh in relief, Tank reports Trigger's death. U-571 has taken severe damage and will not remain afloat for long. The crew abandons ship with the Enigma in their possession. The crew watch U571 as she slips beneath the waves. Floating aboard an inflatable lifeboat, they are eventually rescued by a US Navy PBY Catalina flying boat.
- Matthew McConaughey as Lieutenant Andrew Tyler
- Bill Paxton as Lieutenant Commander Mike Dahlgren
- Harvey Keitel as Chief Gunner's Mate Henry Klough
- Jon Bon Jovi as Lieutenant Pete Emmett
- David Keith as Major Matthew Coonan
- Jake Weber as Lieutenant Michael Hirsch
- Jack Noseworthy as Seaman Bill Wentz
- Tom Guiry as Seaman Ted "Trigger" Fitzgerald
- Will Estes as Torpedoman Ronald "Rabbit" Parker
- T. C. Carson as Seaman Eddie Carson
- Erik Palladino as Seaman Anthony Mazzola
- Dave Power as Motor Machinist Charles "Tank" Clemens
- Derk Cheetwood as Seaman Herb Griggs
- Matthew Settle as Ensign Keith Larson
- Thomas Kretschmann as Kapitänleutnant Gunther Wassner
The film was generally well received by critics, with 78 out of the 115 critics tallied by review aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes giving the film positive reviews, resulting in a 68%, and the critical consensus "Excellent cinematography and an interesting plot accompanied by a talented cast and crew make U-571 a tense thriller." The movie performed well at the box office.
Controversies regarding content
The film's depiction of American heroics in capturing an Enigma machine angered Britons. The Allies captured Enigma-related codebooks and machines about 15 times during World War II. All but two of these actions were by British forces. The Royal Canadian Navy captured U-774 and the U.S. Navy seized U-505 in June 1944. By this time the Allies were already routinely decoding German naval Enigma traffic.
While the United States' direct participation in World War II commenced in mid-1941 with Lend-Lease, tactical involvement did not commence until after the Attack on Pearl Harbor, by which time 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; the Polish Cipher Bureau broke the Enigma code in 1932 and gave their findings to Britain and France in 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland.
The first capture of a naval Enigma machine and associated cipher keys from a U-boat were 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. According to Britain's Channel 4, "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."
The capture, rather than sinking, of U-570 – the only ship to be captured by an aircraft – on August 27, 1941 by a Lockheed Hudson from RAF Coastal Command was important for determining the fighting capacity of U-boats, although her crew destroyed the Enigma and cipher information. The boat was towed to port and commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Graph.
During Prime Minister's Questions, Tony Blair agreed with questioner Brian Jenkins MP that the film was "an affront" to British sailors. In response to a letter from Paul Truswell, MP for the Pudsey constituency (which includes Horsforth, a town proud of its connection with HMS Aubretia), U.S. president Bill Clinton wrote assuring that the film's plot was only a work of fiction.
David Balme, the British naval officer who led the boarding party aboard U-110, called U-571, "a great film" and said that the film would not have been financially viable without being "Americanized". The film's producers did not agree to his request for a statement that the film was a work of fiction, but the end credits dedicate the film to the "Allied sailors and officers who risked their lives capturing Enigma materials" during World War II. The credits acknowledge the Royal Navy's role in capturing Enigma machines and code documents from U-110, U-559, and the U.S. Navy's capture of U-505.
In 2006, screenwriter David Ayer admitted that U-571 distorted history and stated that he would not do it again. Ayer told BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme that he "did not feel good" about suggesting Americans, rather than the British, captured the naval Enigma cipher:
|“||It was a distortion...a mercenary decision...to create this parallel history in order to drive the film for an American audience. Both my grandparents [sic] were officers in World War II, and I would be personally offended if somebody distorted their achievements.||”|
Negative portrayal of U-boat sailors
The film 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. German U-boat crews were under War Order No. 154 not to rescue survivors, which paralleled Allied policy. Of all the several thousand sinkings of merchant ships in World War II, there is only one case of a U-boat crew's deliberately attacking the survivors of a sinking: that of the U-852, whose crew attacked survivors of the Greek ship Peleus.
Although the US submariners crewing U-571 successfully sink the German resupply U-boat in an undersea battle, in reality this was extremely difficult for any World War II submarine to achieve. The only instance of a submerged submarine's sinking another submerged vessel was the Action of 9 February 1945, when HMS Venturer sank the U-864 with torpedoes.
The presence of the German destroyer in the Atlantic Ocean is a likely inaccuracy, as most of the surface fleet of the Kriegsmarine never ventured far west into the Atlantic (owing to the overwhelming strength of the British, Canadian and US surface fleets), and no German ship did so from 1942 onwards. The few exceptions were their capital ships, such as Admiral Graf Spee, Scharnhorst and Bismarck.
In the discussion of the plan to capture the Enigma, Maj. Coonan addresses Lt. Tyler as "sir." As a major in the Marines, he outranked Tyler. A major in the Marines, Army or Air Force is the equivalent of a lieutenant commander in the Navy, which outranks a lieutenant. He might, however, have addressed him as "sir" because he was the submarine's executive officer. Also, an executive officer normally holds a rank higher than lieutenant unless the Captain is a Lieutenant commander. However, in the military rank structure, position usually takes precedence over rank.
The Messerschmitt 109 that buzzes the submarine prior to her encounter with the destroyer is referred to as a "long range reconnaissance" aircraft. In reality, the 109 was a relatively short range aircraft not typically deployed on such duties.
The real U-571, captained by Oberleutnant zur See Gustav Lüssow, was lost with all hands on January 28, 1944, west of Ireland. 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.
The real USS 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. The USS S-26 did not sink in a test dive; she instead sank in a collision with a patrol combatant, USS PC-460, in January 1942.
The Thompson submachine gun used by the sailors in the US boarding party had M1A1 Carbine folding stocks. There is no historical evidence that any such variant existed in this time period, or indeed at all.
The film 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.
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for two awards at the 73rd Academy Awards: Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing (Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Rick Kline and Ivan Sharrock). It won the sound editing award.
- Das Boot
- Submarine films
- History of cryptology — World War II cryptology
- Biuro Szyfrów (Polish Cipher Bureau)
- Argo (2012 film) - a fictionalized account of the real escape of Americans from Iran during their revolution. Credit is given mostly to American planning and execution, and little to the Canadians, who actually organized and executed the plan and took the risks.
Notes and references
- Rotten Tomatoes: U-571 Movie Reviews Retrieved June 2, 2009
- "The 73rd Academy Awards (2001) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
- "U-boat film an 'affront', says Blair". BBC News. June 7, 2000. Retrieved August 18, 2006.
- IMDB Filming Locations
- "'U-571' Runs Noisy, Runs Strong". The Los Angeles Times. May 2, 2000. Retrieved November 10, 2010.
- "History". Channel 4. Retrieved March 9, 2013.
- "Storm over U-boat film". BBC News. June 2, 2000. Retrieved August 18, 2006.
- "Capturing the real U-571". BBC News. June 2, 2000. Retrieved August 18, 2006.
- "U-571 writer regrets 'distortion'". BBC News. August 18, 2006. Retrieved August 18, 2006.
- "NOVA Online: Hitler's Lost Sub". PBS. December 16, 2006. Retrieved December 16, 2006.
- "Boats - ''U-864''". uboat.net. Retrieved March 9, 2013.
- "The Movies". uboat.net. Retrieved March 9, 2013.
- uboat.net - U-boat Types - Type XIV
- Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Destroyers 1939-45. Osprey Publishing. p. 6.
- "uboat.net, "''U-571''"". Uboat.net. Retrieved March 9, 2013.
- "Ss-105 s-1". globalsecurity.org. July 30, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
- "Salon interview with Jonathan Mostow". Salon.com. May 4, 2000.
- Kahn, David (1991). Seizing the Enigma: the Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1939-1943. Boston, Houghton Mifflin.
- Sebag-Montefiore, Hugh (2001). Enigma: the Battle for the Code. Phoenix.
- U-571 at the Internet Movie Database
- U-571 at AllMovie
- U-571 at the TCM Movie Database
- U-571 at Rotten Tomatoes
- U-571 at Box Office Mojo
- Imperial War Museum Enigma pages: Captured! Enigma codebooks rescued from U-boat
- BBC Movies 11 January 2001: U-571 (2000)
- BBC Movies: American Histories - How The War Wasn't Won
- The Guardian, 26 February 2009: U-571: You give historical films a bad name
- Virtual Enigma Machine at Bletchley Park Post Office