Tom Hanks‘ Greyhound is a tight, tense, no-bathroom-breaks battleship flick, and altogether a better-than-reasonably-good action film. It’s obvious catnip for war-film aficionados, and certainly for WWII buffs.
Aaron Schneider directed, but Hanks — the star, sole screenwriter and producer with Playtone partner Gary Goetzman — is the ranking auteur here, and you can’t help but admire the meticulous honing that went into upping the suspense-and-danger factor. Once on board and underway, the narrative offers no breathers.
For this is a riveting procedural — a taut logistical drama set on gray, heaving seas, about rookie naval Commander Ernest Krause (Hanks) and the crew of a destroyer escorting a convoy of 37 ships across the North Atlantic in early ’42, and dealing with all kinds of hair-raising hell.
It’s Krause’s maiden voyage, by the way, and he frankly looks a little old to be a greenhorn but we’ll let that slide.
The emotional engagement comes from Hanks trying like hell to play the role of the wise, confident daddy and to not screw up by failing to focus for even a second or two. The pressure is on every waking second.
Along with the cargo-laden convoy, Krause and crew obviously need to dodge German torpedos while inflicting as much damage upon the wolf pack as possible. This is the whole agenda, the whole film. Greyhound is therefore dealing a forced deck — every moment has to be pounding, every piece of information has to impart alarm.
The critical action in this 91-minute suspense thriller actually occupies 80 minutes if you discount the opening and closing credits, and is shorter still if you eliminate a stateside dinner scene between Krause and wife Evelyn (Elizabeth Shue) that adds zip to the overall. And let’s also cut out that praying at bedside stuff. And who cares if Hanks has bleeding feet?
Most of the tension comes from Hanks and key subordinates eyeballing sonar screens and gauging possible threat levels. There’s so much focus on those screens (along with other ominous visual indicators) that I was reminded of the missile-track sequence from Dr. Strangelove. A good portion of Greyhound is, in fact, that Strangelove sequence — “submarine five miles away and getting closer…four miles off…three!”
Last March I complained about the Greyhound trailer looking like “a video-game fantasy” and “a damn CG cartoon”. I even claimed that the film lacked a certain feeling of “tactile reality” that one got from older sound-stage war films like Mark Robson‘s The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Humphrey Bogart‘s Action on the North Atlantic or Cary Grant‘s Destination Tokyo. And yet, despite my loathing of computer effects, I somehow became accustomed to them once the film began, although the waves, explosions and tracer bullets always feel synthetic. I’m sorry but they do.
In summation, Greyhound isn’t half bad and plays better than I expected. A crisp salute to costars Stephen Graham, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Karl Glusman and Tom Brittney.
Does Greyhound fall short in failing to pay proper respect to African Americans who fought and died bravely during that historic conflict? Lamentably, yes. If I had been in Hanks or Goetzman’s shoes I would done a Hamilton and inserted a scene or two of an African American admiral keeping tabs on the situation, just to play it safe. Will Hanks and Geotzman be threatened with cancellation for casting Rob Morgan as a white-coat chef who’s constantly preparing eggs, bacon and pancakes for Hanks? Hard to say, but don’t be surprised if wokesters make a thing out of this.