After a somewhat stilted opening sequence, straight-to-video war thriller In Enemy Hands actually develops into a tight, engaging story. Similar in some aspects to David Lean's classic Bridge on the River Kwai, the story involves an American submarine during World War II and the plight of the gruff crew to stay alive. Early in the film (after a creaky intro featuring some lousy acting by Lauren Holly) we meet the crews of the S.S. Swordfish and the German U 429, a couple of subs doing battle with enemy battleships. Through some confusingly-choreographed missile attacks the surviving crew of the Swordfish, including Chief of Boat Travers (William H. Macy) and Captain Sullivan (Scott Caan), is forced to abandon ship and is picked up by their German counterparts.
Against the hopes of his men, Captain Herdt (Til Schweiger) declares the Americans all prisoners of war and commands that they be provided rations and medical attention and kept alive until the U boat meets its resupply ship. Of course, in the process of rescuing the Americans, the Germans also expose themselves to a nasty case of meningitis, the contagious aspects of which I'd imagine are only amplified in such close quarters. After a number of Germans become incapacitated the two crews have to work together to keep the sub afloat (or whatever you'd call it.)
When the film is at its best it gives us the type of stoic World War II characters that we've seen countless times before and forces them to confront their enemy in a new way. The actors are very capable and lend an air of class to the simple film. Macy (playing something other than a moron for a change) gives his character an uneasy sense of strength (he's thrust into a leadership position by circumstance) and Schweiger is the epitome of quiet respect as a man who knows the importance of rules and also knows when to break them (which is what he does when he refuses to execute the enlisted men among his captives.) He demands that his crew behave in a civilized manner and, when he's forced to ask his captives for help, he's able to look them in the eyes as men.
There's a sense of this film being about "men doing manly things," as most military movies are, and the bond formed between Macy and Schweiger is a perfect example of this. Even though in the end Macy has the opportunity to hand over Nazi secrets to American forces he's conflicted. I realize that the question of whether or not to do this comes down to keeping a promise he made to Schweiger's character, but during all the swelling music and lump-in-throat drama I couldn't help but still think "He's a Nazi! Hand over the codes and be done with it!" Regardless, this is a fictionalized story with the goal of humanizing a handful of men and it does a nice job of that.
The ensemble cast is uniformly good. Of note to fans of TV's Lost is Ian Somerhalder (Boone from the show) as an American serviceman.
The anamorphic widescreen video is very nice. The interior of the sub is dark and the transfer mostly handles it well. Compression is not too visible and even the stock war footage is blended in pretty well. (It does appear to be more grainy than the rest of the film.) There was one stuttery glitch near the end of the film that was still there after ejecting and reinserting the disc, but it could have just been my copy.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is functional. Action sequences tend to be a little loud and the sound isn't as distinct as a 5.1 mix would allow, but it's engaging enough.
Just a couple of trailers for other straight-to-video fare.
I'm not sure why the filmmakers would present a fictional story about a war so filled with real-life drama, but the meat of In Enemy Hands is engaging and benefits from some fine performances. Running a short ninety minutes, the film never really gets the chance to amount to much, but military buffs will enjoy it and the conflict between the men adds to the tension. Nothing groundbreaking, but better than expected.