Monday, March 21, 2011

Things I Learned From the Movies: U-571

As a history student and teacher, I find movies with a historical bend to them difficult to watch. I cringe at Braveheart and hate how a totally awesome story like the Duchess of Devonshire's was made boring in The Duchess. (The reality is always better.) But over the years I have started to make a distinction between two types of historical movies: The Epic Historical and The Action Historical. The former is more serious and based more closely to reality, whereas the former may have occurred in a historical time frame as long as it was in a Parallel Universe.

Braveheart and The Duchess are Epic Historicals.

U-571 is not.

Sometimes, but not always, the cast can be the clue as to which type of movie that I am watching, but this is highly flawed. For example, Mel Gibson was in Braveheart, but he was also in Patriot, which is an Action Historical.

In the case of U-571, Matthew McConnaughy and Jon Bon Jovi are the clues. These are not actors who show up in Epic Historicals. The movie is loosely based on the Allies attaining the Enigma code machine from the Germans during WW2. With the capture of one of these machines, the Allies could break the German code and save the world from annihilation. The vast majority of the work on the Enigma decoding was done by the British at Bletchley Park. Which leads to:

Lesson #1: No one is interested in watching the Brits save the day.
To be fair, the movie came out in 2000, which was before Clive Owen and Gerard Butler came into the action movie ranks. Orlando Bloom was still cavorting about in his elf gear. That's not to say that there were no good British actors working in the States at that time. I just can't think of any. Also, everyone knows that the Americans won the war and saved the world from Hitler. (Cue eye roll.) Unfortunately, because of this attitude in Hollywood, we don't seem to really get how good the Brits were doing at holding off. Yes, things were dark, but comparatively, we had it easy. Everyone was getting bombed. We weren't.

Lesson #2: Watch how you contain the prisoner.
Just because someone doesn't speak the same language as you doesn't make that person stupid. It just makes you unable to understand them. The German U-Boat commander was a smart guy--if he weren't, he wouldn't have been commander. He wouldn't have the suitable amount of stubble, and he wouldn't have that plaid shirt under an awesome cabled sweater. He was smart enough to act like he's an electrician, so let's go with that for a moment. If he were a sub's electrician, he probably knows the sub very well. So, when handcuffing him to a part of the sub, make sure he has more than one guard. And that said guard isn't a fresh-fashed sailor.

Lesson #3: It's okay to wildly shoot a gun in a submarine.
Jon Bon Jovi did it, and nothing happened. It didn't hit anything--those bullets just disappeared. Not one pierced the hull.

Lesson #4: When pretending to be Germans in order to infiltrate a German sub, make sure more than two people speak German.
So, our boy McConnaughy goes over to the sub with two boats full of sailors. Only two can speak German. This is not a good idea. They would be discovered fast. And they were. See Lesson #3.
And what if those two people were shot? Non-German Speaking Germans are suspicious to Germans. And we're supposed to believe America won the war? No wonder the rest of the world thinks we are stupid.

Lesson #5: Diversity on a submarine is a good idea. Especially if it's cliched and stereotypical.
You have to have the guy who doesn't want to be in charge but ends up being in charge.
An Italian with a chip on his shoulder.
A gunner named Trigger.
A mechanic named Tank.
The best friend who dies.
The chief engineer who is wise and gives advice to the first guy. And is played by Harvey Keitel. The token black guy who is the cook and miraculously knows how to pilot a sub.

And thus finishes the Inaugural Post of "Lessons Learned".

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