Das Boot (The Boat) (1981)
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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In the Second World War, a German submarine captain (Jürgen Prochnow) is ordered to take his vessel from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Although this mission is dull and uneventful at first, the captain and his crew soon encounter a variety of obstacles. They attack an Allied convoy, dive into the hull crushing abyss to escape depth charges, pass through the waters beside British Gibraltar, and so on, only to discover that, even having achieved their objective, further threats await them.

While it is far from perfect, Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot is not only a well crafted film, but also the director's finest work to date. The movie's claustrophobic sets and depictions of constantly recurring dangers arouse a sense of edgy tension and Petersen's ability to engage the viewer with a number of the sailors around whom his story revolves heightens such feelings of oppressive fear to a remarkable intensity.

Petersen, wisely, does not focus on the various actions of combat themselves. Instead of portraying grand battles filled with naval vessels racing through shimmering waters surrounded by countless bursting shells, as directors of war movies often do, he depicts the men inside the vessels and their reactions to the deadly occurrences with which they are surrounded. The result is much more emotionally satisfying than mere depictions of speeding torpedoes and bubbly explosions.

What is more, the film's emotive effect is considerably enhanced by the skilled performances with which Das Boot is enlivened. All the actors acquit themselves well and give a veracity and humanity to their characters, many of whom are well developed. Petersen ably shows their worries, their loves, their pleasures, and so on, involving the viewer with the characters and allowing him to identify with them.

The movie does, however, have a number of flaws, the worst of which, almost certainly, is its conclusion, which is excessively and ineptly didactic. I was left disappointed to find that I had not been allowed to relish my enjoyment of the film. Instead, all the pleasure I had gained from the movie had been made to serve the lesson the director thought he was teaching me about the futility of war. While I certainly agree with his sentiments, I am not so stupid that I can be convinced of any position by fictitious evidence or emotional manipulation.

Das Boot is ultimately dissatisfying because the ending is so disappointing, but the remainder of the film is well crafted, engaging, and worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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