Surface flaws can't sink `U-571'

Review: Submarine thriller has no secreet messages, just a steady hand at the helm, an able-bodied cast and sea of suspense

April 21, 2000|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"U-571" is the kind of war picture that William Holden used to star in -- the kind where he rallies his co-stars (let's say Frederic March, Mickey Rooney, Alec Guinness and Don Taylor) to outsmart the enemy, manages a few sardonic cracks and never gets his hair mussed.

Matthew McConaughey is no William Holden, but "U-571" still makes good use of his limited range in a World War II submarine thriller that is executed with efficiency and skill.

McConaughey plays Andy Tyler, a Navy lieutenant who has just been turned down for a command of his own submarine when he is called upon by his lieutenant commander, Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton) to execute an extraordinary mission: With the help of a couple of U.S. Marines, Tyler and Dahlgren will "rescue" a troubled German submarine and in the process steal a code machine called the Enigma, which the German forces use to send secret messages.

That's probably already saying too much about a movie that sets up a mood of tensile suspense from the beginning and never lets it go. Director Jonathan Mostow ("Breakdown") clearly knows how to maneuver men and special effects to create a niftily twisty thriller, and he gets good performances from his cast, who could be described as the "Not `Saving Private Ryan' Players." (In one of the movie's most shocking plot twists, Mostow actually lets the one African-American character survive the second reel, a refreshing departure from the usual formula of bumping him off right away.)

If "U-571" is light on character development and emotion, it still accomplishes what it sets out to do, with smarts and style. After all, it's not Mostow's fault that Holden was unavailable.

`U-571'

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi

Directed by Jonathan Mostow

Rated PG-13 (war violence)

Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

Released by Universal Pictures

Sun score * * *

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