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Hulu's 'Das Boot' is a Well-Crafted Sequel to the 1981 Film
June 17, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Simone Strasser (top) is the sort of admirable female character we’ve met in dozens of movies and TV shows over the years.

When World War II broke out, and the boys went marching off to secure victory for their beloved nation, she immediately stepped up to provide support back on the home front. In her case, that meant applying her language skills and work ethic to the military’s all-important intelligence division.

She’s exactly the kind of person you want on your side.

Which is precisely why the Germans valued her so much – her side was Germany.

Simone Strasser (Vicky Krieps) anchors half of the two-pronged story in Das Boot, a riveting eight-episode drama that becomes available Monday on Hulu.

A sequel to the acclaimed 1981 movie of the same name, Das Boot is not your classic American war-mystery-action drama. A big chunk of it is set inside a claustrophobic submarine (the “boot” of the title). It’s spoken almost entirely in German and French, with subtitles. It looks at the war from the German side, finding good people as well as evil people and often humanizing them. The show itself often looks as dark as its story.

Happily, all those potential dramatic drawbacks become irrelevant in the hands of Tony Saint, who wrote this new adaptation of the original Lothar-Günther Buchheim novels, and director Andreas Prochaska.

They find a half-dozen great human stories inside the unlikely framework, and by the end of the first episode we’re already hooked on finding out what will happen with Simone Strasser, her brother Frank (Leonard Schleicher) and two worlds that intersect in strange and dangerous ways: the rigid, highly disciplined, and tense world inside a U-Boat, and the equally tense and if possible even more unsettled world of the German military and the French Resistance.

The U-Boat half of the story involves Frank Strasser, though its focus lies more with the boat’s captain, Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon).

Klaus is the son of a German military legend, and while he’s a capable commander, he’s riding to an extent on his father’s reputation. Several military veterans with more experience are surprised and somewhat resentful when he leapfrogs them to be named the captain of U-612, one of the thousands of submarines Germany is producing as fast as possible in an attempt to cripple Allied shipping.

Okon plays Hoffmann as perceptive and guarded, perhaps more introspective than the German military prefers in its officers. When we meet him, he still has not resolved the question of whether his military obligations conflict with his conscience. 

In action, however, he has the capacity to be as ruthless as any military commander in a life-or-death combat situation. 

Das Boot establishes strong characters quickly and smartly. Simone Strasser and Klaus Hoffmann are only two among a half dozen whose hearts could beat in the uniforms of any nation on Earth.

Like the movie, and the novels on which both the movie and TV series are based, this Das Boot moves beyond a standard war story into an incisive and affecting examination of why we fight wars in the first place and the ways in which the lives of ordinary people are defined and changed by the decisions they make when war takes over their lives.

Lest there be any doubt about this broader ambition of Das Boot, it begins with a chilling five-minute sequence in which a German submarine – not the U-612 – is spotted on patrol by an allied bomber plane. The boat submerges, only to find itself threatened by depth charges, and we see in a visceral way how quickly the hunter can become the hunted. 

That opening sequence begins with the German captain on the bridge of the ship, smiling as he sees dolphins playfully jumping alongside. It ends with an Allied soldier remarking matter of factly that there’s no room in war to sympathize with the enemy because the whole point of war is that one of you has to end up dead.

For Simone and Frank Strasser, and by extension, the hundreds of millions of others caught up in war, the only thing they get to choose is a side. 

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