Enforced isolation can find you doing funny things. Sure, you meant to start penning that script, or picking up that clarinet, or painting that pastoral view from a cherished childhood memory. But, if you’re anything like me you find yourself watching the trailer for Tom Hanks’ upcoming World War 2 actioner Greyhound on continuous loop.
Maybe it’s because in these worrying times we will cling to any semblance of security, and who better to side with than Hollywood’s nicest man™, Tom Hanks? Not only did he (spoiler) save Private Ryan and deliver all that mail (eventually), he and wife Rita Wilson were the first high-profile stars to contract COVID-19. And thankfully, they beat it, recently returning to the US from Australia.
So, a film in which he plays a captain shepherding people through a perilous fight with a deadly unseen enemy? That holds appeal as we seek to frame the current global crisis within the comforting parameters of a Hollywood story.
Yes, we are aware this is c.800 words reviewing an advert. All trailers are ads for movies, frequently re-editing films to create moments absent from the movie themselves.
A good trailer then, does not automatically equal a good film. But, in what it does, Greyhound has a great trailer. As lean as its namesake canine, within a minute it has bullseye’d many traditional beats of war movie cinema…
We know we’re in 1942, with Hanks’ Commander leading a naval convoy across the North Atlantic en route to England. We know he leaves a love at home (Elisabeth Shue), it is Christmas time, he’s religious, and a wolfpack of German U-boats hunts the convoy.
Oh, and this is his first crossing and there will be no air support for five days. All “inspired” by true events, although end trailer credits info informs us it is based on C.S. Forester’s novel, The Good Shepherd.
Then the hunt is on and the convoy is taking losses. And while Greyhound is a war picture, the trailer places it in monster movie territory. These submarines are predators as lethal as the shark in that movie by Tom’s pal, Steven.
They are depicted as sea monsters: frequent shots show American sailors firing at them, but there is not a German submariner seen. If this continues in the movie it risks dehumanising the enemy. But, we’ll allow it for the trailer as it compounds the feeling the sailors are literally all at sea, while the subs are happily in their element.
Check out 1:27 when a German U-boat appears from below. It doesn’t just surface, it rips through the waves with a leviathan’s roar. The sound is repeated at 1:51, the trailer again trading on our understanding of horror cinema. At 1:59 we see a surefire way to kill them is shooting them in the head zombie-style.
What we presume is the lead U-boat has a wolf emblazoned on its conning tower. At 2:02, “Wolf” vanishes from sonar, only to reappear, seemingly captained by Count Dracula and supernaturally multiplied. Listen at 2:07 and tell us that isn’t the chief vampire addressing Hanks? Continuing the vampiric feel is the blood red lighting of Greyhound’s bridge.
NOTE: That “Dracula” cameo was removed from the trailer when Apple TV announced they were releasing the film. But, you can see the original trailer below:
Neatly, this is where the prayer opening the trailer adds up to more than just bible belt jingoism; Hanks seems to be Commander Van Helsing, promising “We’ll bring Hell down from on high”.
Then we have the de rigueur closing moment talking point, when Hanks’ Commander orders an evasive manoeuvre so an enemy torpedo glances off Greyhound’s hull. If a previous movie has featured this, please leave a note in the comments section. It is new to us and suggests a high stakes chess game will play out in the North Atlantic.
Elsewhere we have shots that mark Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot and the 1957 Robert Mitchum movie, The Enemy Below as influences. Hell, there is even a shot the reminds us of Das Boot’s American release poster (below). Okay, we admit this is reaching… although, like Das Boot, Greyhound is released by Sony. We’ll stop now.
So, Greyhound then. Tom Hanks’ second screenplay, 26 years after That Thing You Do (although he did write an episode of Band of Brothers). Directed by Aaron Schneider, whose last film was the little seen 2009 Robert Duvall and Bill Murray indie drama Get Low. Repeatedly pushed back since an original release date of January 2019.
It’s currently due for June 26th, but cinemas will likely still be as sealed as a submerged U-boat at that time.
But, some point in the next year we’ll discover if Greyhound deserves nearly 1,000 words written on its trailer, or if this is just isolation-induced over-enthusiasm.
Before then, permit me to enjoy the excitement of what could be a belting old-fashioned war movie achieved with impressive FX, headed by a cinematic descendant of James Stewart and Gregory Peck.
Although, we’ll be secretly disappointed if there isn’t a mermaid in it.
Now check out the trailer for perhaps the greatest nautical war movie ever made…