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|
|Editing by||Wayne Wahrman|
|Studio||Dino De Laurentiis Company
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures
|Running time||116 minutes|
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.
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 the boarding party over when 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 and dives the captured U-boat and destroy the enemy U-Boat.
After making repairs and restoring power Tyler decides to take the disabled submarine to 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 right into the ship's radio tower, preventing the destroyer from reporting that the Enigma code has been compromised, 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 a corpse out of an empty torpedo tube, faking their own destruction. The German destroyer continues dropping depth charges. U-571, hiding at below 200 meters, is damaged by the high water pressure. Control of the main ballast tanks are lost and the ship ascends uncontrollably. Tyler orders crewman Trigger to submerse himself in the bilge underwater to repressurize the torpedo tubes. Trigger manages to close the air valve for the tubes, but a second leak and valve are unexpectedly revealed. Trigger's arm can't reach. U-571 surfaces without a torpedo to fire. The destroyer fires on the ship, which takes heavy damage 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 just before dying. The second the pressure is available, Tyler orders Tank to fire the final torpedo. The German ship is destroyed. During the celebration, Tank reports Trigger's death. U-571 has taken severe damage and will not stay afloat for long. The crew abandons ship with the Enigma in tow. Floating aboard an inflatable lifeboat, they are eventually spotted 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. The movie performed well at the box office.
Controversies regarding content
The United States' 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; 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. "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.
Out of some 15 captures of naval Enigma material during World War II, all but two were by the British – 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 reading naval Enigma traffic 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. 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.
A written acknowledgment does appear on-screen that the Royal Navy captured the first, and subsequently the vast majority, of the naval Enigma devices.
David Balme, the British naval officer who led the boarding party aboard the U-110, called U-571, "a great film" and said that the movie would not have been financially viable without being Americanized. The film's producers did not agree to his request for a message, making it clear that the film was a work of fiction, but agreed to include a message at the film's end mentioning the Royal Navy's role in the capture of U-110.
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 movie 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 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. 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 alleged case of a U-boat crew's deliberately attacking the survivors of a sinking: that of the U-852, whose crew allegedly 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 the 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. It is unlikely that there were Navy men equipped with Thompsons with folding stocks during World War II, as only US paratroopers had guns with those types of stocks.
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.
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
- First seizure of Enigma
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 Linked 2012-10-22
- BBC Movies 11 January 2001: U-571 (2000) Linked October 22, 2012
- BBC Movies: American Histories - How The War Wasn't Won Linked 2012-10-22
- The Guardian, 26 February 2009: U-571: You give historical films a bad name Linked 2012-10-22
- Virtual Enigma Machine at Bletchley Park Post Office Linked 2012-10-22