Great points, Horatio.
Yeah, the actor playing Thomsen really did look wasted in that opening party scene. And then he cleaned up fairly decent in time to catch U-96's departure....you could also see on his face, a sense of "Oh, my God, what you boys are about to endure. Well, I've seen more than enough." (And then U-96 encounters Thomsen on the high-seas. U-96's captain was none too happy about them pushing Thomsen back out to sea.)
Yeah, at first the U-96 XO is definitely the Nazi on board, for all the reasons you pointed out. Still maintains his grooming, reads propaganda, basically serves as the boat's "political officer" (similar to what we see later in Hunt for Red October). However, even he eventually becomes a sympathetic character, shedding his high-horsedness for a genuine compassion for the crew. (I really liked the scene of humility, when they get to Vigo, and the Weser's captain mistakenly presumes HIM to be the captain. The response from the "Hitler Youth Leader" XO is priceless.)
My favorite characters in the movie were the Captain, Kriechbaum (ship's navigator), Werner (the journalist), the Chief, the radio officer/medic, the chief bosun, and the cypher officer.
I agree. You wanna make an anti-war movie, no better way to do it than to show the horrors of war, and the effects it has on those who must wage it, not just those who bear it. If the effects are nothing but positive "oh yeah, we kicked their ***" attitudes, then it glorifies war. But if it's like what we see in Platoon, and Das Boot, then it shows war for what it is. Even these submariners are shown to be true to something (I believe it was) MacArthur had said: That in war, it is the soldier who first prays for peace. Of course, they're going to be hungry for action, if it's their first patrol out, and for many of those sailors, it was...I think the only real vets on the boat were the Captain, the Chief, Johann the Engineer (confirmed with 9 patrols, including the U-96 tour), and the Chief Bosun. Everyone else, totally new. So, you're sitting in a propellered sardine can for weeks, waiting to fire your shots and make a name for yourself, and as with so many things in the military, it's hurry up and wait....only to find that you're several hours away from being able to render meaningful assistance to those boats that are seeing action.
The frustration sets in, and eventually gets the better of the crew...for a short time. But their shining moment comes when they save U-96 from a watery grave. As the Captain said (in the American version), "All you need are good men." (The English subtitle is different from the English dub that Prochnow himself performed. I think Uwe Ochsenknecht performed his own dubs as well, as he is also an English speaking German. --and as a side note, I really enjoyed Uwe's performance as Stilgar in Frank Herbert's DUNE.
The Captain was definitely the antithesis of a Nazi. He was a war weary vet, largely leading a group of children. Though only 30 years old, war had put many times more years of wisdom on his head. He cared for his crew. Even when it was thought he was going to shoot Johann when the engineer was going mad, you could see in his face that it was something he did NOT want to do. He knew Johann was an experienced officer, and a hearty one at that....for Johann to have been so shaken that he nearly risked death...(the Captain seemed rather thankful that the crew got Johann under control, and that he did not have to shoot the embattled engineer) and then after Johann's apology and swearing that such an incident would not happen again, gave Johann his chance at redemption...I really liked this Captain.
And I'm sure what he really wanted to tell the Weser's captain was a lot more than he got to actually say...the Weser's captain was expecting big bold tales of heroism and derring do, and got a pretty short and sweet take on just how dangerous being on an Unterseeboot really was.
Hell, it was the cypher officer that provided a little more color commentary to that end.