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A U.S. Navy Captain and his crew are just beginning to enjoy 48 hours of leave when they receive word to immediately return to duty. On a top-secret assignment, they must disguise themselves as Nazis and infiltrate a severely damaged Nazi U-boat. Once on board, they are to steal the Nazi's top-secret decoding device and sink the sub before the Germans catch on to what's really happening. Their mission is more dangerous and frightening than anything they could have ever imagined, but one which has the power to turn the tide of battle.
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As for the story? Bravo!! It is pure genius to take the premise of a factual story that did happen in history but change it around to make it completely new and interesting for the audience. Even if you know the factual story this movie is loosely based on you will not be disappointed. There are so many surprise twists and turns to keep you til the very end. The characters themselves are also not "cardboard cutouts". Each character is introduced in such a way that you learn their backstory as you get to know them so it doesn't seem forced. And even though I tried, I couldn't compare any of these characters to ones I knew in history or in other U-Boat movies.
Writing character development in such a way is so nice when it is done right, as it is done in this movie. You then get to follow those characters through their development and maturing process which makes you care about them even more. Nothing makes a movie better than when you forget the people on screen are actors and actually care about what is going to happen to their characters.
Much of the movie does indeed capture the essence of the submarine environment (the leaks in S-33 really added to the veracity), but Mostow can't resist the temptation to add typical Hollywood "thriller" incidents that are completely unrealistic.
Probably the most glaring impossibility/improbability was the undersea battle between the two U-boats firing torpedoes at each other. The chances of either U-boat's torpedoes getting anywhere near close to the other U-boat are close to zero, and I think perhaps only once in the entire war did a submarine successfully torpedo a submerged enemy submarine (firing into an unsuspecting target sub broadside-on not bow-on). Plainly also the torpedoes in this movie did not have magnetic/proximity detonators (the torpedo sliding along the side of U571!).
Indeed, Mostow gets the torpedo issues wrong most of the time. The movie opens with the U571 (in German hands) torpedoing a merchant ship. Total time from firing the torpedo until it explodes - oh, about five seconds! The captain had earlier said "set speed for 35 knots" (did the Germans also measure speed in knots?) and so this would mean that the torpedo was travelling at 60 feet every second - suggesting the merchant ship was only 300' away from the submarine!!! (A more realistic distance would be five to ten times further away and therefore a less exciting five to ten times longer delay in the movie between firing and exploding).
The startling inaccuracy/ineffectiveness of the German destroyer's gunnery both times that it was shooting at the U571 is also notable, particularly when contrasted against which was the amazing ability of the heros to deploy an unfamiliar submarine deck gun and fire it (did anyone see the gun being loaded?) all in a couple of seconds and hit the destroyer exactly where they wished! Hmmmm.
Of course, one doesn't really want to think too much about the German destroyer at all, because there was plain and simply just absolutely no way that a lone German destroyer would ever have been found in the mid-Atlantic.
It is also relevant to note not only the startling accuracy of the enemy depth charging but also the strangely underpowered nature of the depth charges! A single depth charge detonating as close to the sub as many were portrayed as doing would have been sufficient to destroy it. Instead, apart from the usual cinematic devices of water bursting from pipes (only to be conveniently stopped by a nearby valve) and light bulbs breaking (only to subsequently fix themselves when diesel power was restored!), no great damage occurred.
There were other more trivial errors, too, but they were not so central to the plot. On the plus side, there were some wonderful sound effects, and I was amazed to learn that the sound of the U571 diesel engine was actually recorded from a real German submarine (U505 in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago).
Overall, it was a good action flick, and if Mostow hadn't made such pretentious claims to accuracy, it would have been harder to criticise these aspects of it.
The DVD has loads of extra features and material. ....