WOW!!! What can Father Geek say? This is an excellent, entertaining REVIEW. Outstanding effort Alexandra, keep it up.
Alexandra DuPont Offers Yet Another Fawning, Blurb-ready, Jeffrey-Lyons-eque Hagiography/Review of U-571 -- Only This Time in the Form of a Memo to Director Jonathan Mostow, for Novelty's Sake
April 19, 2000
To: Director Jonathan Mostow
From: Alexandra DuPont
Re: Your Sophomore (though Hardly Sophomoric) Effort, "U-571" (and yes, I know it's actually your third film, but let's not count "Beverly Hills Bodysnatchers," shall we?)
CC: AICN Staff and Devoted Readers
Knowing that you're a reader of this site (or that you've at least grasped the value of working with AICN rather than dismissing it as "that pack of meddling kids"), I'd like to avail myself of the opportunity to address you directly re: your WWII sub thriller, "U-571."
Hey. Excellent job, man.
Now, then. I have a few questions:
QUESTION ONE: How is it that you've made two films for Dino DeLaurentis ['Orca,' 1976's 'King Kong'] that resolutely fail to suck?
I'll hazard an answer: You have a pop-thriller sensibility that Dino knows not to mess with. With "Breakdown," you crafted a film that was equal parts "Duel" and "Deliverance"; for those readers who haven't seen "Breakdown," imagine "Frantic," only with Kurt Russell and not boring and substituting trailer trash for the French.
QUESTION TWO: Why -- given the fact that your movie was guaranteed to be somewhat suspenseful by virtue of being set on a submarine -- did you bother to give it a taut, compelling storyline?
You're a cheeky monkey, Mostow. You KNEW going into this project that submarines are a sort of "suspense guarantee" -- that the sounds of pressure-induced creaking and depth-charge explosions in magnificent, ear-piercing THX, plus the claustrophobic sets and the close-ups of sweaty faces, would probably be enough to sell tickets in today's thrill-ride film culture. I mean, for pity's sake -- even "Crimson Tide," which, no offense, had fairly cartoony bookending scenes, got gripping once it went underwater.
But you've bothered to craft a plot-intensive story that, while not breaking any new ground thematically or anything, maintains its internal logic and pretty much never lets up. In retrospect, all the war-film clichÃ©s are in place:
(1) The young XO (an excellent, lean Matthew McConaughey), passed up for promotion because he's green, thrown into extraordinary circumstances that test his leadership mettle;
(2) The old mission-gone-horribly-wrong narrative saw;
(3) The anachronistic WWII dialogue, featuring such zingers as "We'll bushwhack 'em real good," and which the cast, particularly McConaughey, sells beautifully;
(4) The stock characters: the salty-dog chief (Harvey Keitel), the weary and wise skipper (Bill Paxton), the scary intelligence mofo (David Keith), the greenhorn, the guy who chokes under pressure, the Doubting Thomas, the wild-card prisoner, the wiseacre mess steward....
But you keep tossing these story elements and characters at us so fast and furious that there's nary a second to say, "Hey, he lifted that from 'Das Boot.'" I'm a "whisperer" at films -- I like to comment in my companion's ear as the tale progresses, much to that companion's dismay I'm sure -- but I couldn't tear myself away to do that with "U-571." (Of course, given that my hammer, anvil and stirrups are now permanently damaged by your Megadeth-concert-esque sound effects, my companion probably wouldn't have heard me anyway. I mean, really: I felt like Pete Townsend afterward.)
I guess my only criticism here would be that those few moments that the film slowed down to develop character were welcome, and I would have liked more of them. I'm thinking particularly of a scene in which Keitel's Chief lectures McConaughey on leadership after the fit hits the shan: "The skipper always knows what to do, whether he does or not." (BTW, if "U-571" tanks, which I rather doubt it will, you might consider making it the centerpiece of a corporate-leadership workshop series.)
QUESTION THREE: So is Jack Noseworthy -- the silliest-named talented actor working today -- one of your "ensemble" players now or what?
***** QUESTION FOUR: Have you anticipated the other criticisms that will be leveled at you by film snobs? If not, do please allow me: I really really dug "U-571," Mr. Mostow, but following is some flak you may catch, along with my suggested responses:
CRITICISM: "It was no 'Das Boot.'" MY SUGGESTED RESPONSE: After hurling something unmentionable at the questioner, laugh and add, "Well, of COURSE it isn't -- Wolfgang Petersen made a thoughtful character piece and I've made a WWII thrill ride. My sincere hope is that this film will inspire young, foolish Joe Sixpack to go buy the four-hour Director's Cut DVD of 'Das Boot.' Which of course it won't, so they'll have to settle for my extremely entertaining Cliff's Notes version."
CRITICISM: "Where the hell did Jon Bon Jovi disappear to during that attack sequence, only to never be seen for the rest of the movie?" MY SUGGESTED RESPONSE: "Well, he's a cowboy, on a steel horse he rides, and he's wanted -- dead or alive."
CRITICISM: "It's too damn noisy." MY SUGGESTED RESPONSE: "Huh?"
CRITICISM: "Richard Marvin's score is kind of overbearing -- I felt like I was being told how to feel a lot of the time." MY SUGGESTED RESPONSE: "Mea culpa. You're absolutely right -- as with 'Saving Private Ryan,' my film would have been even more intense with almost no score whatsoever. I'm really sorry."
CRITICISM: "This story isn't historically accurate." MY SUGGESTED RESPONSE: For this one -- which will dog you for the next year or so as pot-bellied military re-enacters and Anglophile history buffs harass you around the globe -- I'd urge you to memorize the well-deserved coda at the end of your film: "God bless the HMS Bulldog and HMS Aubretia (1941), the HMS Petard (1942), and U.S. Navy Task Force 22.3 (1944). It's fiction, folks."
Warmest possible regards, congratulations on your labor of love, and don't pull a John McTiernan and make poopy movies after this one,
P.S. You may be happy to hear, Mr. Mostow, that the rotund fellow behind me was so caught up in "U-571" that he kept yelling "Boom!" and "Whoa!" and "Oh hahahaha!" every time something or someone blew up. I personally wanted to club this fellow with a Fungo bat, but I suspect it's a compliment to your efforts.