Director: Aaron Schneider
Writer: Tom Hanks
Cast: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, Elisabeth Shue
Producers: Gary Goetzman
Music: Blake Neeley
Cinematography: Shelly Johnson
Editors: Mark Czyzewski, Sidney Wolinsky
Running time: 91mins
What’s the story: 1942, the North Atlantic. Greenhorn captain Ernie Krause (Hanks) helms US destroyer Greyhound, leading a convoy of supply ships from America to England, battling a deadly wolfpack of enemy U-boats.
What’s the verdict: Greyhound’s journey to the screen has been almost as fraught as the eponymous ship’s North Atlantic crossing. Originally intended as a March 2019 release, it was shunted back to June 2020. Then another unseen enemy, classification COVID-19, torpedoed that date, while also laying low leading man Tom Hanks.
Meaning Greyhound finally docks on the small screen as an Apple Original Film, forgoing both a cinema outing and, compared to Netflix or Amazon Prime, a sizeable audience. Shame, as this riveting World War 2 thriller is superior to most glossy, star-driven home premieres (6 Underground, The Old Guard, etc., etc.).
Plus, at 91 minutes (81 minus end credits) this is as lean as the titular ship’s namesake. Like Nolan’s Dunkirk, from which this borrows climactic beats, it is also a nice reminder films need not run two hours plus to make an impact.
Hanks’ script, from C.S. Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd, is a model of simplicity: an Allied convoy must cross the North Atlantic from America to England. For just over two days the convoy will be without air support, navigating a perilous patch of water known as The Black Pit, where German submarines make their deadliest attacks. Hanks’ Krause must lead Greyhound, plus support destroyers in protecting the convoy.
Bar an early character establishing scene with Elisabeth Shue as Hanks’ love (little more than is seen in the trailer) Greyhound is solely that 50-hour journey through The Black Pit. Audiences may be surprised at the scant character background supplied, but characters emerge in how they react to the mission.
Stephen Graham as Hanks’ second-in-command Lt. Cole is an inspired piece of against-expectation casting, and he sells Cole as Krause’s indispensable sounding board as the mission grows more hazardous. Rob Morgan as ship’s chef Cleveland also makes a mark in unexpectedly emotional fashion.
Krause is an almost computer-programmed Tom Hanks role; even his first name is Ernest. But, Hollywood’s nicest man™ channels his best Jimmy Stewart (and Saving Private Ryan’s Capt. Miller) as the upstanding, devout commander wrestling with a mission that is about saving as many lives as possible, rather than being able to save everyone.
The ships and subs are as much characters as those manning them, including the lead U-boat with its distinctive wolf’s head emblazoned on the conning tower. Surfaced submarines sticking alongside destroyers to evade their cannons, or ships take crazy turns to avoid torpedoes achieve heart-racing moments of suspense.
Director Schneider (who’s previous film was the little-remembered 2009 oddity Get Low) proves a natural at stoking and sustaining tension in visual FX heavy set-pieces. Trusting in the efficiency of Hanks’ script, Schneider composes action for complete visual coherence. Impressive when he’s working with a bunch of grey battleships and subs against typically dark seas and gunmetal skies.
The director looks to Hanks’ mate Spielberg in depicting a sleek, lethal underwater foe, often seen when it’s far too late to escape.
Technically, this deserves Oscar nods next April… or May, or whenever they’re happening. Double Negative’s visual FX put real heft into vessels crashing through photorealistic waves, with water droplets and spray hitting the camera being a nice touch.
Blake Neeley’s score, a mixture of rousing percussion, stirring strings and unnerving almost-whale song, complements the onscreen peril, while the foley artists must have dived feet first into the sound effects opportunity the film presented. Another reason it is a shame this won’t see the inside of a cinema.
Some audiences may complain the film leans too heavily into naval jargon, with each order repeated back for confirmation. But, Hanks and director Aaron Schneider are after an immersive experience, placing the viewer on deck alongside the old captain and fresh-faced crew.
The one-note treatment of the enemy is a clearer target for criticism. We suggest the Robert Mitchum-Curt Jurgens submarine movie The Enemy Below for a film that balances screen time between American and German characters. Or Das Boot for a film from the German side.
We would be interested in seeing deleted scenes, as presumably a subplot or two were excised from earlier, longer cuts.
But, against the odds Hanks and co. have successfully brought this one home. Now, if Apple and original studio Sony would allow a Blu-ray release…
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