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 The standard submarine drama – depth charges, beep-beep sonar, bursting bulkheads, “secure that hatch” dialogue – gets an efficient workthrough by director Jonathan Mostow, who did a lot with very little in 1997’s “who stole my wife” thriller Breakdown. He’s got a good cast here too – Matthew McConaughey putting in one of his brattish turns as the “I’m ready for command” lieutenant, Bill Paxton as his “No, you’re not” commander, an underused Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi, continuing his hopeful advance into movies – but it’s the presence of the Enigma coding machine that is the film’s USP. By which I mean it’s the presence of the Enigma machine that is the film’s USP if you’ve watched the trailer or read any pre-release guff. In fact you could easily lose the German code stuff and the film would still be decent enough. Drama’s a given on a sub, and Mostow knows how to muster action, deliver technically impressive set pieces. But it’s not Das Boot – there’s little time for the psychological sweatboxing that Wolfgang Petersen’s superior U-Boat drama delivers – and the sub-John Williams soundtrack also signals the direction this film is heading, towards flashy spectacle not nail-biting involvement. Prepare to dive.

 U-571 – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2000

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