Review by EJ Argenio, NRFTW Correspondent and Contributor
From an outsider’s perspective, Greyhound, the latest film starring Tom Hanks, appears to be nothing more than a rehashed take on many elements from the famed actor’s past. Hanks is once again fighting for the U.S. during World War II (Saving Private Ryan) in a film based on true events (Apollo 13) as the captain of a ship under attack from foreign enemies (Captain Phillips). Based on this premise, the casual moviegoer may ask why they should even spend their time seeing Hanks’ latest historical drama? It’s a fair question. Most likely the common answer to anyone asking this question is summed up in two words … Tom Hanks. Who doesn’t enjoy a movie starring Tom Hanks? Sure, an actor’s legacy can provide cause as to whether one may watch a film. However, the truth comes from the simplistic storytelling wrought with tension that Hanks himself can personally take credit for.
Based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepard by C.S. Forester, Greyhound is set during World War II in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean during the Battle of the Atlantic. The story follows first-time Naval Commander Ernest Krause (Hanks) as he leads a nautical convoy containing allied troops and supplies traveling from the U.S. to Great Britain. However, the only passage is through a territory known as the Black Pit, where fighter jets can no longer be used to protect the ships. Warships, like the Greyhound, were used as the last line of defense against German U-boats. The film follows the 48-hour journey the convoy must travel to enter back into allied territory where the comforts of an aerial safeguard may once again be found.
The battle was real, however the story of Krause (who is named George in the novel, not Ernest) and the ship are completely fictitious. With that said, this does not change the impact of the film. Forester’s novel, which was published in 1955, has been highly regarded for its authentic description of the battle despite certain fictional elements.
While Hanks has had other writing credits to his name, this was the first time that he was recognized as having “Screenplay By” attached to his name having adapted the novel. The script is linear and straightforward. Unlike Hanks’ other films of historical significance, this was not about Krause, nor was it about the men he was commanding. Sure, in a brief flashback scene at the film’s start we learn that this is Krause’s first time in command and that he has a love interest named Evelyn (Elisabeth Shue) he intends to marry, but that’s about it as far as backstory goes. We are told nothing else about Krause’s past, nor do we get to know anything about the men working under him. It was a little disappointing coming to this realization about a third of the way into the film. Part of the enjoyment when watching a new movie is learning about the characters and their reasoning in making certain decisions, but this film is really about their mission to keep the ships within the convoy safe.
The audience’s point of view remains with the Greyhound, and Krause, throughout the film. While we hear Krause communicate with the Commanders of the other vessels (with names like Harry and Eagle), we never see or meet them. Same can be said for the film’s antagonists, the German U-boats looking to sink the convoy. In a couple of instances, we hear from the commander of a U-Boat called Grey Wolf who taunts the Greyhound with messages of death and destruction.
The mission of the Greyhound was the film’s mission. We are following this first time commander as he leads his convoy (and audiences) through the Black Pit and we experience the fear and tension as those onboard. This emotion drives the film and keeps us at the edge of our seats. The peaks and valleys of tension within the story are all centered around Krause. The commander’s actions are used as indicators of a threat on the horizon. This happens during normal occurrences like eating breakfast or putting on a pair of slippers. Every time Krause feels like he can breathe a sigh of relief, another potential compromise to the mission and the lives of his crew comes to light. In wartime, and during missions of this magnitude, there is no time for calm. Being in command is arduous and never-ending. Krause is precise, decisive, and unwavering during times of crisis. With a little help from his own writing, the award-winning actor once again masterfully gives life to a character from inked paper to the big screen.
While Hanks does most of the heavy lifting, Greyhound’s cinematography and score complete the film as we see high aerial shots above the Atlantic allowing audiences to see the military positioning of the convoy as they look to fend off enemy attacks. From this view we are also made aware of incoming torpedos, sometimes before the Greyhound or other members of the convoy. These intense visuals are appropriately matched with a score by Blake Neely (K-19: The Widowmaker) that raises that tension even further, all while sounding patriotic in the fight of good versus evil.
Seeing this film may be a no brainer for fans not only of wartime films, but also of Hanks. However, for the casual movie fan aiming to immerse their minds elsewhere, you might want to consider watching Greyhound. If for nothing else, it’s a Tom Hanks movie, and he rarely disappoints. With a runtime of 91 minutes Greyhound is an emotional rollercoaster simplistic to its core and available to stream now on Apple +.