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Das Boot (1981)

The Boat

Hitler sent out 40,000 men aboard German U-Boats during World War 2. Fewer than 10,000 returned

Directed by:

Wolfgang Petersen

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 200 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: Germany

This is the story of a German U-boat's tour of duty during the Second World War. The film focuses on Captain Henrich Lehman-Willenbrock (Jürgen Prochnow) and his young crew who are just about to leave on a mission. The story is seen from the perspective of a war correspondent, Lt Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer), who is accompanying them. On shore, the crewmen are excited, for they will soon be going to sea, so they spend their last few free hours drinking and carousing. The crew are young – little more than boys – and these will be the hardest days of their lives.

After provisions and other gear are loaded aboard, the submarine sets out on its mission. It is 1942 and the German submarine fleet is heavily engaged in the 'Battle of the Atlantic' – an attempt to harass and destroy Allied vessels. Improved escorts for the convoys have resulted in heavy losses to the U-boat fleet. It is in this environment that the u-boat crew find themselves as they go about their mission. And not everything will go well or turn out as they expect.

Everything about this film seems genuine and believable. This is one of the few films to deal honestly with what it is like to be at war, and to look deeply at the characters of those who participate. The set is claustrophobic and the atmosphere terrifying. The outstanding cast are crammed into their spaces like sardines, and the pressure on them is palpable. Although the crew are German, that is quickly forgotten – it is not long before an audience comes to see them as merely individuals struggling to stay alive in extreme circumstances. The sound of this film is worthy of particular mention – it is used to build the tension most successfully. Beautiful to look at in a gritty kind of way, this film is strong on writing, acting and cinematography, and makes very few mistakes as it proceeds.

It's Got: The ability to grip an audience for an astonishing amount of time.

It Needs: To be seen in the original German with the English subtitles to enjoy its true flavour (although the English version is quite well dubbed).

DVD Extras Considering the length of the film it’s surprising that there is room for any extras at all, but they’re much appreciated and add to the experience. Extras: Director’s commentary, Featurette, Theatrical trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

Crimson Tide, K-19: The Widowmaker, U-571

Summary

A tense and timeless masterpiece that is thoroughly gripping and will appeal to a much broader audience than might first seem the case – it’s already considered a classic.

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