"U-571" is an action blockbuster film pure and simple, and a very good one at that. Like most of today's summer blockbusters there's next-to-no character development, a very thin plot, and lots of explosive and costly looking effects. However it also has some of the better qualities of the old 80's blockbusters - no cheesy one-liners, no pathetic attempts at a shallow romantic subplot, it actually takes itself relatively seriously, and most importantly of all - atmosphere.
Director Jonathan Mostow and D.O.P. gives us plenty of claustrophobic scenes, these WW2 subs aren't like the gliding nuclear-powered Hiltons you see in such flicks as "Crimson Tide". Nope, these babies are basically rust buckets, every room is dark and covered in grime, water drips in everywhere from old pipes, and long moments of near silence waiting for torpedos or depth charges to hit help add to the tension.
This is certainly not an actor's film as the script is basically more of a list of which action sequences come first, and sheets of accompanying Navy technobabble with each scene. The characters are shallow as hell, but you do root for them simply because they seem decent enough dudes who are stuck in such a horrible and tense situation that you want to see them succeed. That said the talents of all the actors involved are never fully utilised with McConaughey and Keitel very watchable, yet certainly in roles which other actors of similar age could've done.
Jon Bon Jovi has a suprisingly good two minutes of screentime and suddenly seems to vanish, Bill Paxton does the 'total serious' role which is actually the most boring character I've ever seen him do. The rest of the crew have the usual stereotypes seen in war films - the one engaged to be married who chickens out, the bravado guy of some ethinicity who ends up being a wimp and constantly questions orders, and the young guy who makes a brave sacrifice to save them all - we've seen it all before. The two whom I liked the best were Jake Weber as the Intel Chief Lt. Hirsch, and Jack Noseworthy as radio officer Wentz. Why I don't know, probably because at least these characters seem to have a semblance of intelligence.
The action itself is fantastic and at a breathtaking pace. Sequence after sequence hits you one after the other, and each one good solid lengths of around 10 minutes a pop. At times the dialogue does feel a little repetitive, but you're sucked in by the speed of the story along with the good FX which don't falter too much. Also, the whole US patriotism angle is kept relatively low-key (there is no flag waving thank god), thus international audiences will warm to it as much as the domestics - even the end dips its hat to the real life British men & women actually responsible for cracking the 'Enigma' code in similar, less Hollywood-ised circumstances.
The very simple story and non-stop action is its greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. As a result, the characters and general plot are completely forgettable, the lack of gaps between sequences mean no one good example stands out in your mind to tell your friends about, then there's the aforementioned problem of repitition. This is very much a popcorn film that will thrill you for two hours, but it won't be one that'll hold up well on repeat viewings simply because of how shallow it is.
I'm the first person to bag a film for having not enough action and way too much 'boring character development' scenes, yet here I couldn't help hoping there'd be some more of the latter (and hopefully something a bit more original than the few scenes they do have). Also sadly missing from the film is women - with the exception of cameos in the first 15 minutes, there are absolutely no women in the film at all (this was the 1940's after all) so those hoping to see some skin will be disappointed.
Those going in expecting something as intriguing or enthralling as "The Hunt for Red October" (still the best Clancy adaptation and one of the best thrillers ever) will be disappointed, but those just wanting pure adrenaline-driven escapist entertainment are gonna love this, I sure had a very fun time.