The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, December 19, 2014

In Enemy Hands

In the age of the large scale World War II movies in the 1950s and 1960s, some of the most popular war films with audiences were those set on submarines in both the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters of war. Like any genre though, that success died down eventually. So where's that leave us? With the throwback film! Here's 2004's In Enemy Hands.

It's late in 1943 and the tide of WWII has officially shifted to the Allies. In the Atlantic, the tide has turned as the powerful, dangerous U-boats are being summarily hunted down and sunk. One American submarine, the U.S.S. Swordfish, has a new commander, a young, inexperienced officer, Lt. Commander Sullivan (Scott Caan), with his experienced chief, Travers (William H. Macy), trying to ease the transition for his new commander. After months on patrol, the Swordfish finally sees some action, sinking a German ship, but gets hit in the process and sinks. The German U-boat, commanded by Captain Jonas Herdt (Til Schweiger), goes against regulations and picks up the survivors rather than let them drown in the middle of the Atlantic. One of the American survivors is holding onto a secret though, one that could kill everyone on board, both American and German unless they reach a port soon.

If this movie was released in theaters -- the Internet says it happened so it must be true -- I don't remember it. Apparently it was an ultra-small release, 'Enemy' earning about $64,000 in theaters. From director Tony Giglio, there is a distinct feel of a 1950s/1960s WWII submarine movie like Run Silent, Run Deep or The Enemy Below or countless others. It adds an extra layer by adding the German submariners into the story as well. It isn't a straight American or German story but a solid mix of the two sides. 'Enemy' definitely has the feel of a smaller budget movie that just barely avoided going straight to DVD and instead got a release in theaters for about 3 hours. That small scale isn't a deal-breaker. Almost the entire movie is set on two submarine sets so that's definitely a bonus.

There's a reason submarine movies do so well. There's a familiar formula that....well, was submarine warfare in WWII. These underwater merchants of death cruised through the ocean looking for targets whether it be other subs, merchant vessels transporting materiel, or any type of wartime vessels. What happened after the attacks? The subs were often chased back across the ocean, ships above dropping depth charges in the water that would literally rock and tear the sub to pieces if it exploded near enough. Those moments are always at the crux of submarine war movies. The crews wait in silence for an explosion to tear the ships apart as the depth charges fall through the water. The tension, the impending doom, even a small scale movie like 'Enemy' doesn't need a huge budget to get the job done.

No big stars here, but the cast is uniformly solid. William H. Macy is one of my favorites, and although he's an unlikely casting choice to play the Chief of boat, he does a good job with the part. His Travers must balance out his responsibilities to both the crew but also the captain. Caan is feisty, arrogant and trying to prove himself in an underused part. As for their German counterparts, Schweiger does an excellent job as the German U-boat captain. Seemingly always typecast as a dastardly villain, Schweiger doesn't disappoint with a chance to play a decent human being, an officer struggling with news from back home while trying to get through the war alive. His friendship with his executive officer, Ludwig Cremer (Thomas Kretschmann), provides the movie's strongest moments. It's actually the German half of the story that I found far more interesting in the vein of Das Boot. Go figure!

As for the supporting American parts, look for Clark Gregg, Jeremy Sisto, Ian Somerhalder, and Sam Huntington on board the Swordfish. On the German U-boat, there's Rene Heger and Connor Donne. Wrapping things up in some painfully awkward and truly forced scenes, Lauren Holly plays Travers' wife, worrying away at home about him coming back to her.

I'll give credit where it's due. 'Enemy' uses familiar territory but doesn't settle for the status quo. It features some genuinely surprising twists and a couple departures for characters you wouldn't expect. The American/German angle provides a fair share of those new moments with the ending building to another solid twist. It's only in the finale that 'Enemy' tries to deliver a message about war that I thought things fell short. Men in war are capable of good things -- and horrific things -- but the war movies that try to hit you over the head with that message are less than subtle. Still, it's an interesting movie with that enjoyable throwback feel. Not great, but worth a watch.

In Enemy Hands (2004): ** 1/2 /****

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