Aaron Schneider’s World War II naval action drama Greyhound stars Tom Hanks, America’s everyman, as Commander Ernest Krause, an inexperienced captain attempting to convoy merchant ships to safety across the North Atlantic. Unlike his other role as a ship captain in Captain Phillips, this time Hanks’ character, and the film itself, is much less developed.
Greyhound is a tight 91 minutes. It cuts out the cliched war tropes and focuses instead on simply inserting the audience members into the action, making them feel like they themselves are on the ship. The film employs tension-ratcheting techniques clearly inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The audience will be praying, along with Krause, that the allies can make it past the packs of German U-boats in one piece. While critics will certainly point toward the excruciating lack of character development, Greyhound is still able to spin an engaging storyline that is easy to latch onto, even if it’s not as dazzling as Dunkirk.
Greyhound begins with an expository scene of Krause in a Bay Area hotel with his sweetheart Evelyn (Elizabeth Shue). Before going off to war, he asks for her hand in marriage, to which she responds that she will agree once he returns. After that, it’s bon voyage for Krause as the audience follows the Greyhound destroyer over the Atlantic.
Adapted from a C.S. Forester novel and written by Hanks himself, the screenplay is incredibly simple—it’s basically filled with a bunch of characters shouting information through the radio. A messenger on deck repeats what he hears to Krause, and the captain gives some command. While probably appearing flat on paper, the simple repetition builds efficacious tension. When a U-boat is on the destroyer’s tail, the constant updates of the enemy’s position from sonar detectors and shifts in military strategy to avoid torpedoes is wildly entertaining. Helped by a beautiful score from Blake Neely, Schneider and Hanks have enough material to craft a suspenseful story.
Schneider uses the common war film trope of a faceless enemy, avoiding any depictions of the battle from the axis side. But then again, he purposefully doesn’t dive very deep into any characters on the American side either. Other than Hanks, Cleveland (Rob Morgan), a Black crewmate working in the mess hall, is the only other character the audience even gets to empathize with. Cleveland consistently tries to serve Krause food, but due to the surrounding chaos, the captain simply doesn’t have enough time to take a single bite. The dynamic between the two showcases the care and brotherhood among everyone on the ship, while also quietly pointing to Clevland’s inability to become a naval soldier because of his race. It’s one of the only substantive aspects of the film. For most of Greyhound, viewers are simply dropped into the middle of the action and expected to absorb what’s going on. This technique, while innovative, may give some audience members the false impression that the film lacks meaning or significance.
Captain Krause is a markedly different character from Captain Phillips, and Hanks does a strong job forming Krause into a courageous leader. He’s a romanticized depiction of patriotic glory, and Hanks shines in his performance without succumbing to cheesiness.
Greyhound depends on Hanks for its success, as he’s certainly in the film first and foremost for marketing purposes, not because he’s the perfect fit for the role. According to the script, Krause is a novice when it comes to crossing enemy waters, yet Hanks is the type of actor whose presence inspires trust and confidence in whoever he’s playing. Nevertheless, the film is primarily propelled by Hanks’ script and acting, making it a fascinating watch and one of the best things on Apple TV+ right now.
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