Saturday, 23 November 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1981: Jürgen Prochnow in Das Boot

Jürgen Prochnow did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the Captain in Das Boot. 

Das Boot is a great film that depicts that life of the crew of a German U-boat during World War II. 

This film seems quite strange in conception in that it actually takes the perspective of German soldiers fighting the war against the allies, and even more than that it shows them in a sympathetic light. The film is able to do this by firstly very sharply making it clear that there is a separation between the standard soldiers, and Nazi superiors. What really makes it work above that though is found in the character of the Captain played by Jürgen Prochnow. The Captain is the oldest most experienced man on the submarine even though he technically isn't even that old himself, and  unlike some of the men he has been around long enough to know that there is nothing grand about the Nazi cause. 

Prochnow is terrific in setting up the Captain in the early scenes of the film which establish the nature of the Captain. Although the film really does not delve into the past of the Captain it does not need to. Prochnow presents the past of the Captain right in his face as he is a war weary man. Prochnow is careful though to still show the Captain who is fully in control of his facilities, which is the case for one of his other fellow veterans. Prochnow performance has the right striking cynicism with the Captain and this is very important in frankly allowing us to go along with Captain and his crew as we the audience think the whole Nazi movement is a crock of (four letter expletive), and Prochnow shows that the Captain feels pretty much the same way. 

The Captain is an interesting character in the film as for a leader of men he is a fairly quiet man. This actually makes sense though due to the nature of the particular form of combat they are participating in which seems most of the time is finding ways to pass the time getting to the war than fighting in the war itself. Prochnow's handles his role brilliantly in finding the very distinct role he has on the ship. In the scenes of boredom Prochnow makes the Captain a properly reserved man. He never makes his own frustrations known, rather he keeps as a calm figure in the crew. Prochnow finds the right underlying strength in his performance, and it is easy to see him as a man the men will look up to and respect. 

Prochnow's performance is actually largely a reactionary one, as the film does leave much of the Captain's character unsaid. Prochnow has a challenge to bring everything between the lines so to speak, and Prochnow does this pretty much flawlessly with his performance. There is such strength to Prochnow's work in the way he always let's us in on the Captain's mindset all while not being overly emotional which would be inappropriate for such a man. Prochnow is able to show why exactly the Captain is even bothering to try to fight the way. The Captain does not believe in the cause, and Prochnow's shows no blood lust in the Captain for this. What drives the Captain is survival for his men, which Prochnow always brings this in his devoted performance. 

Without a doubt the greatest scenes of Prochnow performance are the intense scenes where the submarine fights in the battle and must deal with the damage the U-boat suffers from the sea battles. Prochnow is amazing in every one of these scenes as he internalizes the internal pressure so powerfully in every one of the scenes. Where the other men are often scared, the Captain cannot and Prochnow is exceptional the way he expresses the Captain firm grasp of his command while bringing to life the very human fears that the Captain must bottle up for the sake of the ship and his crew. The weight of every scene is built up to extraordinary levels in the film and Prochnow deserves a great deal of his credit for his uncompromising depiction of the horror of the situation. 

Prochnow's performance is extremely fascinating because he is so withdrawn at times yet always magnetic in his presence. Prochnow does so much with mostly just his facial expressions with his performance to show the silent conflicts of the Captain. One of his best moments in the film is when the Captain watches a decimated allied destroyer that still has live crewmen who have not been rescued and attempt to swim to the U-Boat. The Captain has no choice but to move away from the men. Prochnow is outstanding in the scene because again the Captain stays calm as the Captain should, but behind that Prochnow shows that the Captain is truly torn apart inside as he is forced to watch men slowly dying in the ocean. 

 Prochnow is able to make journey of the Captain much like the journey of the ship itself. Through all the trials of it the ship it seems as though it just is able to just pull through by the end, Prochnow reflects this in the Captain in a natural fashion. Every trail Prochnow portrays as getting under the Captain's skin deeply, but through it all there is always a strong resilience even within the decay. The connection between the two never seems even the slightly melodramatic or forced in anyway because Prochnow is able to deliver the dynamic with such a honest passion and the utmost conviction to make the ending of the film something very special. Prochnow's work throughout the film is a thoughtful and moving portrait of a commander trying to bring his men through a war he does not believe in.


Matt Mustin said...

I haven't seen this, but your review reminds me of Tom Hanks' terrific performance in Captain Phillips, particularly all the stuff on the lifeboat.

Also, is it just me, or does Prochnow look a lot like Robert Shaw in that picture?

Michael Patison said...

I totally agree. I also think Wolfgang Petersen's direction is astonishing. He so totally makes you feel like you're in the submarine with them.

Mark said...

Just out of curiosity, Peterson was nominated for Best Director, but in 1982. What year would that put this performance in?

Michael Patison said...

That would put this in 1982, but the film was first released non-festival in 1981.

RatedRStar said...

Louis, you know when we have won a request, is it possible that it can be changed to someone else if the year has not been completed because I may change one of mine.

Louis Morgan said...

I'd be fine with that.

RatedRStar said...

ill remove Tony Leung from the Grandmaster because I think it might be a bit of a waste, ill think of someone else later.

RatedRStar said...

in fact just a simple change Louis, see Memories Of Murder sometime lol and that's all, any film that draws Se7en and Zodiac comparisons and is on IMDBs top 250 is a must.