2020, PG-13, 91 mins.
Tom Hanks as Commander Ernest Krause, USN / Elisabeth Shue as Eva Krause / Rob Morgan as Cleveland / Stephen Graham as Charlie Cole / Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Lopez / Karl Glusman as Eppstein / Tom Brittney as Lt. WatsonDirected by Aaron Schneider / Written by Tom Hanks, based on the book by C. S. Forester
Tom Hanks has had a creative love affair with World War II history that dates back decades, which began most famously by appearing in Steven Spielberg's Oscar winning SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and was followed up with producing HBO's splendid BAND OF BROTHERS.
He returns to the fold by
appearing in front of the camera and serving as screenwriter for the new
fictional nautical WWII thriller GREYHOUND, adapted by the 1955 novel THE
GOOD SHEPHERD by C.S. Forester. One
aspect that makes this battlefront piece refreshing is its approach in
chronicling a frankly a very little scene combat theater of WWII.
That, and unlike so many other similar genre efforts, GREYHOUND
comes in at a lean and trim 82 minutes (minus end credits), making for a
highly efficient and economical picture.
Having said that, one of the casualties of this spare approach is
that the film suffers from a lack of strong character development, leaving
a work of flat dramatic impact. But on a pure visceral level, though, GREYHOUND packs a
The limited running time also
doesn't allow for much of an overarching plot, but the basic nuts and
bolts of it follows a U.S. Navy Commander on his very first war assignment
in charge of a massive escort group of battleships that have been deployed
in early 1942, just a few short months after America entered WWII.
Hanks plays Captain Ernest Krause, and his aforementioned
assignment takes him on board the USS Keeling, codenamed, yup,
"Greyhound." The ship's primary function and mission is to safely escort
nearly 40 supply and troop support ships through the very treacherous
Atlantic to reach England, and all while fending themselves off from
constant German bombardments and attacks.
The most dicey area that Captain Krause and his fleet have to cross
is the so-called "Black Pitt," an aptly named section of the
ocean that's so far and distant away from land-based civilization that any
forms of air support is all but null and void and at least 48 hours away.
Rather predictably, the Captain and his gallant crew are called to
face multiple threats and enemy waves of attackers.
So....that's about it.
I will say this: Hanks'
efforts here as writer are noble minded enough, and he has made a career
over the years of focusing on larges chunks of important aspects of WWII
that haven't really been told.
Equally commendable is his yearning to celebrate the boundless
heroism of these battle hardened seamen and the litany of sacrifices that
they made in the line of fire. GREYHOUND
is no different that just about any other WWII drama that has come before
it (outside of it being an amalgam of fact and fiction, leaning heavily
towards the former), but we have had so very few war films from the
perspective of the sea. People
shouldn't mock GREYHOUND because it's not technically based on any real
characters or incidents, per se, but the whole backdrop of what Captain
Krause and his fleet of protected ships went through was undeniably and
eerily real. The Battle of
the Atlantic ran for several years and involved victories, setbacks, and
many deaths. That deserves to
That, and as mentioned, GREYHOUND
strips away an awful lot of fat from its bones, and some of this approach pays
off handsomely. Whereas other
nautical themed war thrillers can span hours upon hours (see DAS BOOT),
it's somewhat gratifying to bare witness to what a sleek vessel (no pun
intended) of a piece this is, and all made to make us feel immersed
within the sometimes tight and claustrophobic confines of these ships out
at sea. There's the obvious
vastness of the ocean that surrounds Krause and his fellow multi-national
ships, but there's next to nowhere to flee or hide under such
circumstances from U-boat assaults. Leading
the charge with confidence is director Aaron Schneider, who
disappointingly has not directed a film since his superb 2009 effort GET
LOW. It's great to
see this filmmaker work outside of his comfort window and attempt
something daringly different, going from a southern themed drama to an
epic scaled war film on the Atlantic, and for the most part he seems equal
to the task on delivering.
Where GREYHOUND truly shines
is in the area of visual effects and action set pieces, all done with
thanklessly seamless (well...mostly) CGI and a lot of editorial symmetry
and creativity. The real
challenge for Schneider and his production team here is to make every
battle portrayed here feel unique and avoid the risk of repetitive
sameness, and the cat and mouse games of survival and one-upmanship here
is thrillingly realized through and through. Schneider does an exemplary job of hurtling viewers headfirst
into all of this sustained chaos, showcasing the terrified, but determined
crews of the Keeling making every effort to stay alive and thwart their
swarms of invaders. There's
definitely something to be said, however, about Hank's screenplay coming
off as blandly procedural during these moments, and much of GREYHOUND
involves substantial amounts of tech talk, military jargon, and maritime
vernacular in the midst of battle (which is to be expected, I guess, in
Then again, that's part of the
larger problem with Schneider's film: It suffers much of the same fate as
the good, but severely overrated DUNKIRK
in the sense that it's so bloody focused on the minutia of war, battle,
logistics, and combat action that meaningful characters and fundamental
emotional beats gets lost in the process. GREYHOUND is less about people and more about war itself and
the very nature of the battles of the Atlantic, and because of that focus
and the very short running time the various personas contained within are
not particularly interesting of well fleshed out.
Some are complete throw-away entities (like weird and awkward intro
scene featuring Krause and his girlfriend - a wasted Elizabeth Shue -
exchanging loving glances during a Christmas meet-up before he ventures
into his assignment), whereas others (like supporting players
played by Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan) aren't really given much to do
outside of dispensing exposition heavy dialogue. Too many of the military men here feel one-note and
interchangeable: they're props being shuffled along this film's massive
war chess board.
As for central figure here in
Hanks' Krause himself? The
multiple Academy Award winner is as stalwart as ever playing his
stern faced and vigilant Captain dealt up with the unfathomably stressful
predicament of being responsible for countless lives and supplies to
continue the Allied war effort. It's a subtle and restrained performance from Hanks, and done
with the consummately smooth and assured professionalism that he's always
had a positive reputation for. Alas,
I only wished that the screenwriter in Hanks gave his role more compelling
levels of complex texture. When
all is said and done, he's playing a familiar Hanks-ian protagonist
archetype here, one that's strong-minded, brave under fire, prone to
vulnerable feelings of uncertainty while under intense pressure,
but ultimately a faith driven man of action that gets the job done with an
aw, shucks modesty and gumption. GREYHOUND
offers up a piece of comfort food as far as Hanks characters go, and for
as solid as he is in the film it's definitely by no means a stretch for
It sounds like I'm being pretty negative in the closing sections of this review. Beyond what was just mentioned, GREYHOUND's overall approach does feel antiquated at times and seems like it's appropriating the style and tone of war films of yesteryear. I don't typically like to use the moniker of "old fashioned" in the pejorative sense, but it kind of fits here. Compared to many other great WWII films, GREYHOUND is a bit too muted and vanilla plain for its own good, not to mention that if you want to watch a truly masterful navel thriller also featuring Hanks embodying a military man of action that exudes courage under fire then seek out the infinitely superior CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. Still, GREYHOUND is handsomely produced and efficiently made, but I sincerely think that it would have had a finer impact on me if I was afforded the opportunity to screen it in a cinema. The film was another casualty (a frequent descriptor in my reviews as of late) of the pandemic, and was optioned for screening on Apple TV+ (even with my not-so-inconsiderable home theater setup, GREYHOUND'S visual and auditory impact would have made for a greater experience in cinemas). If anything, it's the kind of film that positively reminds us why it would be shameful if cinemas died altogether in the wake of COVID-19 in favor of home streaming. GREYHOUND deserves giant screen treatment, not home consumption or - God forbid - tablet viewing. Newfangled ways to watch films will never replace good - ahem! - old fashioned cinemas.