Recommendation: Not much in the way of plot or character development, but the action feels legitimate and Hanks puts in a solid workmanlike performance. 6.5/10.
IMDB Synopsis: Early in World War II, an inexperienced U.S. Navy captain must lead an Allied convoy being stalked by Nazi U-boat wolfpacks.
The Atlantic Ocean was a far lesser known theater in World War II than the Pacific or The French Countryside, or even the Russian line, despite being vital. Dubbed the Battle of the Atlantic, it was a cat and mouse game of the Americans and allies moving ships, troops and supplies across the North Atlantic while avoiding German u-boats. Specifically, it was most dangerous during a days-long period where the air support from either continent was out of range, Greyhound is a fictional telling of one of these crossings during the air cover blackout. Steeped in military realism, Greyhound is fantastic at conveying a certain brand of individual heroism and gritty naval warfare while glossing over a larger story, most character development, stakes, and continuity.
Tom Hanks plays Captain Krause, a stoic if inexperienced captain making his first crossing of the Atlantic. Given the compressed timeline of the film, there’s very little backstory on his life or the titular ship or crew before the action starts. As soon as the convoy loses air cover, the u-boats start attacking, with only the Greyhound—a destroyer—and a few other warships to cover the 50-plus ship convoy. The film does an admiral job of selling the crew’s silent reticence to Krause, whose undertaking his first command. As the film progresses, as the stakes get higher, the once reticent crew turn respectful and then awestruck at the captain’s down-home yet decisive command style.
While Greyhound is a fictional tale, the action and choreography feel anything but. The WWII naval dialogue is fast and plentiful, and felt authentic to the time: to a pre-modern era of warfare, both technologically and stylistically. The bitter cold of the Atlantic permeates the screen, the scale of the ships pops, and the enormity of the task at hand looms large.
Hanks—as an actor, screenwriter and producer here—is no stranger to realism in war filmmaking, previously having produced Band of Brothers and The Pacific. The difference is in the investment in the characters. While Greyhound is only two hours as opposed to ten, the characters other than Captain Krause feel like outlines rather than fully fleshed out. Maybe over a miniseries we could learn more about XO Charlie Cole (Stephen Graham) or find out why Krause was so fond of Mess Officer Cleveland (Rob Morgan). But instead the film leans into the action and procedural aspects of naval warfare. It’s gorgeously rendered, but there isn’t much under the hood.
As far as WWII films go, Greyhound is a fairly straight down the middle, crowd pleasing, not overreaching stuff. All the hallmarks of American exceptionalism, a heroic and selfless undertaking, and a job well done are all present in Captain Krause and the destroyer Greyhound. But the lack of character development, lack of real stakes, and down-the-middleness of it really puts a ceiling on what it could be. While you won’t be disappointed, far from it, you’re equally as unlikely to replay it like so many other classic war movies.
Find it here on Apple TV+.
Highlights: Elisabeth Shue shows up for 4 minutes in the beginning! I’ve never been more fascinated with depth charges before. And the audio is incredible.
MVP: Hanks is the center of this film’s universe. He’s playing his… fourth film Captain?
Director: Aaron Schneider
Studio: Apple TV+ // Release date: July 10, 2020 (Apple TV+)