Das Boot (1981)
Wolfgang Petersen's daunting WWII drama is an underwater chamber piece of timeless proportions. From the extravagant, mood-setting intro – where Petersen cleverly eradicates any temporal distance between us and his characters by stripping away their formality and etiquette – to the confined, mundane life aboard the U-96, and finally the opaque battles fought, Petersen shows a complete command over his story and the film medium. We get to feel and identify with every emotion, and we get to crawl under the characters' skin in a way that has rarely been done better in the war film genre. Even in the 209 minutes long Director's Cut version (upon which this review is based), Das Boot is tight and constantly to-the-point, albeit slow. But that, the slow pace of the film, is one of Petersen's greatest masterstrokes here, because it accentuates the meaninglessness and dullness of the war. And the contrasts, between the long stretches of nothingness and the short bursts of death and terror, is what really sucks you into the lives of these poor souls. Das Boot manages to convey an important distinction: These men, and others like them, were heroes, because they sacrificed their own lives for the sake of others. And yet, there was nothing heroic about the proceedings or the war itself – a point which is emphasized by the randomness of the finale. The absolutely fervent performances and a haunting theme by Klaus Dodinger crown this modern classic.