Best Movies of All Time + Wolfgang Petersen



Das Boot is a 1982 German war film directed by Wolfgang Petersen that centers around the crew of a German U-boat towards the end of World War II. When Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer), a Navy war correspondent, is assigned to chronicle life on a German U-boat, he joins the crew of Captain Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (Jürgen Prochnow) for their voyage into the Atlantic Ocean. Because I don't want to give away too much of the plot's details, I'll simply give you the synopsis as presented by the Internet Movie Database: Das Boot tells the story of "the claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth, and sheer terror." That's about as good of a breakdown as I could give without telling you exactly what happens.

The first thing you're probably going to notice about this film is that it's incredibly long. The original theatrical cut spans for roughly two-and-a-half hours, and the extended director's cut - which I was able to watch - adds another hour on top of that. The length alone is going to turn some viewers away, but for those of you who can stomach sitting through a movie this long, I can honestly say that you're in for quite an experience. Add to the fact that you'll be reading subtitles (unless you know German), and I probably only personally know a handful of folks who would even attempt to sit this one through.

I'm going to start with the acting because I have a little bit more to say on the side of screenplay. I thought that the cast was extremely well-rounded, with each man giving a finely-detailed performance. It seemed as though each principle character had their own unique personality. The aforementioned Prochnow and Grönemeyer deliver fantastic performances, but there's definitely a lot of love to spread around. Klaus Wenneman is great as the boat's Chief Engineer and closest friend to the Captain, and we also get some great performances from the 1st and 2nd Lieutenants, played by Hubertus Bengsch and Martin Semmelrogge respectively. And Erwin Leder gives a number of memorable scenes, so be on the lookout for him as well.

Now, for the screenplay, which scored an Academy Award nomination in the "adapted" category. The basic storyline is pretty straight-forward, which we'd expect from a film of this nature. We see the daily activities of living on a U-boat, and we see the "boredom, filth, and sheer terror" that it provides to the crew. At the same time, we're getting little bit of political context. At the film's outset, we learn that the Captain is tired of the ongoing war and sees it for how it truly is - the Germans are on their way to losing to the Allied forces. However, the rest of his crew consists of young, idealistic men who still believe in the words and the message of their Führer despite all the evidence that has been stacking up against him. This ideology is epitomized by Bengsch's 1st Lieutenant, who is as stiff as they could possibly come. Despite their obvious concepts of the war around them, all of them men still stand together when it comes to battling their enemy. That's where I think something even deeper comes into play within Das Boot's screenplay. We're given a story with a very human element, and it's filled with joy and sadness, elation and tragedy. At the end of the day, it's a story of survival, and I think that makes it all the more relatable.

In a way, Das Boot can be seen as a difficult film to enjoy, especially being an individual outside of Germany. Although you never really get the sense that these men are Nazis, that's basically what they are and will be throughout the film's entirety. Sure, they may have their reservations about the leadership, but ultimately, they're the ones that I was raised to cheer against in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Schindler's List. The Nazi Party has become synonymous with evil, and humanizing a group of them could seem a little off-putting for some. But that's the wonder of the film - despite all the reasons to hate these men, you start to develop a sort of affection for them, to the point where you're crying with them and cheering with them. A lot of credit has to go to Petersen's direction, but the screenplay definitely sets this film up for its ultimate success.

Overall, Das Boot is a film that you should probably watch if you haven't already done so. Try to get the director's cut if you can, and definitely try to watch it all in one sitting. I'm not sure if it would have as much staying emotional power if you try to break it up into smaller chunks. It's easily one of the best war films I have ever seen, and as you'll see below the picture, it ranks as one of the greatest films I've had the chance to witness. So give it a chance as well - I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Movie Review Summary:Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

Best All-Time: #91

1982, action, Das Boot, drama, Erwin Leder, foreign, Herbert Grönemeyer, Hubertus Bengsch, Jürgen Prochnow, Klaus Wenneman, life, Martin Semmelrogge, movie review, Oscar nom, war, and more:

Relevant to: DAS BOOT + Wolfgang Petersen