When it comes to the quality of films that I review for this blog, the quality can be streakier than a poorly washed window. I might watch 4 or 5 movies in a row that I give at least an A- and the same thing could happen with movies that I give no higher than a B to. By this blog’s very nature, I am mostly watching award-winning and nominated films so the quality curve is obviously slightly tilted. Right now, I’m on one of those high quality streaks as this film makes three out of the last four movies I’ve reviewed films that have received the normally elusive score of “A” from me, and honestly, this film was easily the best of the bunch, and only it’s completely exhausting length kept it from the even more elusive “A+”. I just finished Wolfgang Petersen’s classic war picture, Das Boot, and clocking in at three and a half hours, it is officially the longest film I’ve reviewed for this blog but also one of the most thrilling and engaging.

Das Boot is a 1981 German film  that was originally a six hour long miniseries for German television that was edited down to a two and a half hour film and eventually re-released in the 90’s at its current length of 3 1/2 hours. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of the crew of a German U-Boat at the end of World War II as they suffer one near death experience after another. Deeply claustrophobic in presentation, the film examines the psychology and character of the very large crew that services the ship as they turn from a fresh-faced crew of young boys (some crew members excepted) to a battle-hardened and grizzled group of survivors. At the center of the film is the boat’s unnamed Captain played by the marvelous Jurgen Prochnow (Beerfest), who starts the film as a man haunted by the realities of submarine warfare and is broken down even further by film’s ending. Without wanting to ruin anything, the film has one of the most shocking and heart-breaking endings of any film I’ve ever watched.

One of the most fantastic things that the film accomplishes is that despite (for whatever odd reason it doesn’t do it) not naming the vast majority of the cast besides their rank on the ship, you get a very large number of compelling and complete psychological portraits of the crew of this ship. Lieutenant Werner starts out as an eager and bright-eyed journalist who is meant to feed the German propaganda machine by capturing one of the “heroic” U-Boats in action but he ends up a disillusioned and broken mess by the end of the film. One of the other named crew members, Johann, is a veteran of countless patrols but during one harrowing encounter he cracks under the nerve-wracking pressure of the Allied attack. You have the sheer will and determination of the Chief Engineer who saves the ship from certain doom. There is the young man who writes a letter every day to his French girlfriend despite knowing that he’s probably never going to see her again. You even have the the one member of the crew who is loyal to the Nazi regime instead of just loyal to Germany who comes to see the reality of his situation.

From a technical perspective, this film is practically flawless. As I’ve read elsewhere on the internet, they created a virtually perfect recreation of one of the German U-Boats that was actually used, and the extreme attention to detail and realism is apparent in virtually every scene. At no point in the film, did I feel like any thing was put in to look cool or stylistic. It served a legitimate historical purpose. Also, I have never watched a film that made me feel as claustrophobic as this film does. The ship itself was tiny and very crowded. There was hardly any room to sleep or walk, let alone maneuver and be comfortable. That feeling persisted through out the entire film. The sense of claustrophobia was practically smothering and I was in a more comfortable sized bed-room. When I finish this review, I may walk around my house a little bit just to get a sense of freedom. Also, the camera-work did a great job of really placing you in the action and tension of the film’s many moments when life and death hanged in a precarious and inherently chaotic balance.


The entire cast gave stellar performances, but special mention must be given to Jurgen Prochnow as the Captain. His transformation throughout the film is really something to behold. While he starts the film off hardened and a little beaten, he still has some life in him and the ability to smile and appreciate things. By the time the film ends, he is simply alive and surviving. Prochnow achieves this illustrious turn through a frightening sense of weariness. While I’m sure Petersen applied a lot of make-up to achieve the haunted look on Prochnow’s face, no make-up can achieve the power of his thousand-mile stare and hauntingly piercing blue eyes. When it comes to truly losing one’s self in a role, this is quite a powerful performance. While I would need more time to think about where it stands against the best male performances I’ve seen for this blog, I can definitely say that for the current 50 movie set I’m working on for this blog, Prochnow is sitting comfortably on top.

I mentioned this particular concept in one of my reviews for Band of Brothers, but it’s very difficult for a war film to be anti-war, because by its very nature, showing acts of heroism and bravery will inherently glorify said actions and therefore war itself. Francois Truffaut was the man to really analyze that concept. I can easily say that Das Boot is one of a handful of films that I can name that really is anti-war and in no way, shape, or form glorifies war itself. The over-riding theme of this film besides the battle for survival is that war is Hell. And in Das Boot, Hell might be an understatement. This film consists of suffering, suffering, and a little more suffering, and then it gives you Hell itself for its terrifying and bewildering final act. Much like The Deer Hunter, there is no glory or heroism in this film. There is simply survival.

I’m Jewish, and it’s going to have to take a great movie to make me cheer for Nazis. The sheer fact that Das Boot accomplishes this feat would by itself nearly make this a great film. The fact that it is easily the most compelling and authentic chronicles of the hellish realities of war since The Deer Hunter confirms this greatness. I realize that this review is one of the longest that I’ve ever written, but what else can I do for a movie that is of such epic length and ambition. I wish I could give this film an “A+” as it so clearly deserves this, and I bet I would give the mini-series an “A+”; however, 3 and a half hours is just a long time to sit through any film, especially one where there is a lot of down time. If you’re a fan of war movies that challenge your brain and emotions more than your adrenal gland, this is simply one of the best war films that I’ve ever seen, and you need to watch it.

Final Score: A