Directed by Aaron Schneider.
Starring Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Tom Brittney, Rob Morgan and Elisabeth Shue.
A convoy of Allied ships fights off U-boats while crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1942.
If you need a dependable authority figure in a military or maritime scenario, you call Tom Hanks. From Saving Private Ryan to Captain Phillips, Hanks has a considerable history as a man in uniform. His everyman quality makes him an automatically sympathetic figure – a fundamentally good man doing what’s necessary even in the face of enormous adversity and the worst of humanity.
That’s certainly the case in the new Apple TV+ movie Greyhound, which features Hanks as Commander Ernie Krause, who has been given his first ever command job in charge of the titular destroyer. His vessel is in charge of protecting a convoy of more than 30 Allied ships crossing a treacherous route over the North Atlantic known as the “Black Pit” due to the danger of U-boats attacking while air support is unavailable. Early success gives way to crucial tactical blunders as a “wolfpack” of submarines surrounds the convoy and casualties begin to mount.
Greyhound is likely a feast for those steeped in naval tactics, packed as it is with frantically yelled jargon and repeated commands. The script, adapted by Hanks from C. S. Forester’s 1955 novel The Good Shepherd, is dense and meticulous to a fault. There’s little room for heart and emotion amid the seafaring chaos, which is rendered in uniformly ugly CGI that robs any sense of reality from the action. The contrast between the script’s evident verisimilitude and the obviously artificial visuals is a fatal blow for the movie’s attempts at thrills.
But this is a Hanks movie and the man is never anything other than immensely watchable. Krause is permanently on his feet for the entire story and he consistently forgets to eat the food he is brought, with his focus inevitably shifting towards the more pressing concerns created by the circling German forces. As the mistakes mount and the situation becomes graver for the forces on board the ships, Hanks conveys the building guilt within a man who’s stoically bearing the toll of the events, both mentally and physically. He even asks for his slippers in an attempt to mitigate the pain he is obviously feeling in his feet.
Greyhound often feels like a gung-ho celebration of honourable American forces fighting the good fight, and the only German we hear from is notably a sadistic hype man talking up his comrade’s chances of victory by hijacking the ship’s intercom system. However, Hanks’ character is framed clearly as a religious man who does not relish the notion of killing. When a comrade celebrates the destruction of a U-boat as it means there’s “50 less Krauts” in the world, Hanks calmly corrects him with the words “50 souls”. These details of Krause are more interesting than the rest of the film and could have been explored further.
But depth doesn’t seem to be of much interest here. The film is a brisk 90-minute thriller that gets to the meat of its action pretty quickly, with very little exposition or prelude at the start. Sadly, though, it feels long and languorous even at that brief length, refusing to delve deeper into the human beings at the centre of the conflict. Why focus on actual people when you can spout endless military dialogue while Tom Hanks looks through a pair of binoculars before pulling a concerned face?
It’s easy to see why Greyhound made the move to Apple’s streaming service rather than holding out for the post-lockdown return of the big screen. This is a disposable film tailor-made to watch with your dad on a boring Sunday afternoon rather than a visceral study of war. That’s not to mention that the awful visuals would’ve looked even worse on the big screen. It might even have sent Hanks tumbling back into the uncanny valley carved by The Polar Express. Nobody wants to see that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.