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By Luisa F. Ribeiro | Posted

There's surely nothing remotely appealing about the sardine-like conditions of submarine life, but it makes any story set onboard a sub pulse with dread. The World War II action-thriller U-571 milks that dread for all it's worth. If only the filmmakers had remembered to give a 10th of that attention to the men for whom we're supposed to feel empathy. Matthew McConaughey is Lt. Andrew Tyler, executive officer to Lt. Cmdr. Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton) of the vintage S-33 submarine that's ordered to capture the German Enigma coding device aboard a damaged U-boat. In order to rescue the ailing U-571 -- so they can then nab Enigma -- the S-33 crew doubles as a German squad. Ultimately, Tyler and a handful of men get stuck aboard U-571 when their sub is destroyed. Director and cowriter Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown) go nonstop, but they neglect to give the actors room to breathe. Especially wasted is Thomas Kretschmann as a German officer who promises to bring extra prickliness to the proceedings but is never allowed to do much more than cause requisite mischief. McConaughey looks great but never projects the gut-wrenching solitude of command; by contrast, Harvey Keitel quietly exudes the sturdy credibility of a craggy old sea dog in a small role. The most impressive factor of the mostly unfamiliar supporting cast is its extreme youth, which is historically accurate and heartbreaking all by itself.

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