Greyhound is a new WWII combat thriller from director Aaron Schneider, with a screenplay by America’s Dad, Tom Hanks, and is based on the novel The Good Shepard by author C.S. Forester. It stars Tom Hanks as Krause, a Captain in command of the U.S. Naval destroyer Greyhound, and tells the story of his first crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean, on an escort mission to lead an allied convoy across the sea. The convoy, however, is out of range of air cover for the majority of their trip, and it is a five-day journey to their ultimate destination. With very little support apart from two other Naval ships who are joined in the escorting effort, and with a small pack of German U-boats stalking the convoy’s every move, Krause must brave sleepless nights, endless enemy attacks, the cold of the ocean, and his own inexperience as he navigates the Greyhound along the Atlantic’s unforgiving waters, attempting as best he can to protect all ships in the convoy, keep his men alive (and ready for whatever comes next), and hopefully, take out some of the obstacles in their path. This movie also stars Stephen Graham, Matt Helm, Craig Tate, Rob Morgan, Elisabeth Shue, Travis Quentin, and Jeff Burkes.
This project has been a long time coming. After an initial delay in production, and then another in release dates, the film was scheduled to open this summer in theaters, and even had a trailer released just before mid-March, when COVID-19 struck down any hope that theaters could accommodate for the crowds that projects like A Quiet Place: Part II or Mulan would bring (and if you need an reminder of just how dire things are right now, cases are spiking as Tenet looks likely to move release dates for yet a third time as of this writing). Soon after realizing that this movie would not be able to open in theaters as scheduled, Apple’s subscription service, Apple TV+, acquired the film from Sony Pictures, and began a campaign to launch it as one of their original films, their biggest and most notable acquisition yet. It was a very smart move on part of the subscription service, and one that could bolster their appeal after shows like The Morning Show and Defending Jacob failed to net the size of subscriber base that Apple had been hoping for, even though they did manage to sign up a modest number on the newness of the service itself, and some Emmy attention for that first series. From a business perspective, acquiring Greyhound was the best move they could have made, and with Hanks’ approval (though he has noted his dismay about the film not being able to show theatrically, under the circumstances), it’s sure to be a hit both for the service and for streaming in general. Unfortunately, being pushed to a streaming platform might have been a blessing in disguise when it comes to expectations of quality and the continuing uncertainty of the box office.
Greyhound has a lot to offer that works pretty well: Tom Hanks as himself in a military thriller, Rob Morgan in yet another scene-stealing (but small) performance as a Messer named Cleveland, a script that (despite its being mired in technical terms most people wouldn’t know) moves at a very fast pace with a clear understanding of its goals, a solid score, and some great Naval combat sequences. What it lacks, though, is clarity and character development. Most of the time during the film, the action sequences last long enough to keep one engaged, but offer nothing in the way of character growth or internal challenge. We clench our fists and hope everyone makes it out alive, but we don’t hope that because we love these characters, we hope that because we love Tom Hanks, and his performance commands our empathy. The film tries to give him some development early on with a small flashback sequence for Krause, but the scene doesn’t go on for long enough, and ends up feeling like a footnote in the script, rather than an anchor for the character, especially since it only comes up one other time during the course of the movie, and we don’t really know anything about the character that moment centers on.
There’s also not a very good sense of what’s going on beyond “U-boat attacks, ship turns.” The script, as I mentioned before, moves very fast, which is a good thing for war movies to have – that keeps us always on our feet, always sensing danger, just as Krause is always on his feet – and seems to be very realistic in how the language describes what’s going on, but directionally, the movie feels as if it’s just floating out to see and expecting us to know where true North is. There are multiple points in the film where the camera provides an aerial shot of the ocean, but things were either so muddled or so dark on screen, that I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking at, or where the Greyhound was in most of it. Scene geography in chaotic battle sequences in incredibly important, and love or hate the guy, is brilliantly done in something like Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, where here it just seems like only people who already know what to look for would be able to make sense of everything in the wide shots.
The editing is a bit troublesome as well. It’s not bad editing overall, and in fact, much of the intensity comes from the quick editing in regards to what’s happening on the Greyhound itself, as both above and below decks communicate with each other in rapid-fire fashion, but then once a sequence is over, the screen fades to black, and some text describing the next day comes up. This occurs about five or six times during the course of the film, and while it doesn’t fundamentally change the narrative, it does make the whole thing seem repetitive. That repetition might make for a realistic Naval battle, but it doesn’t really work in a movie, where that intense pacing needs to be continuous with only a few brief moments for the audience to catch their breath. It also makes it feel like either the film was supposed to be longer in the beginning and ending sections, or that the story might have been better served by turning into something like a miniseries. Much like The Old Guard, another significant release from this past weekend, there’s just not quite enough here for the film to feel like it covers everything an audience needs in movie. Unlike Netflix’s film, this doesn’t feel like it’s saving for a sequel, but the “material in the margins” feeling does come up a few times.
There are good things to talk about, though, namely the performances of the cast, many of whom are unknowns but still manage to feel like they belong on this ship, in this situation. Each time Hanks (putting on a reliably great performance of his own) speaks to anyone who’s not Rob Morgan or Stephen Graham, you can feel their respect for their Captain, and their willingness to trust in his instincts. Special credit has to be given to Matt Helm, who stars as Lt. Nystrom, and is easily the most recognizable non-famous actor on screen, nearly stealing the show a few times without much to work with in the way of significance. Graham, too, is just as good here as he was in The Irishman, as he was in Boardwalk Empire, as he is in just about anything. The specific affects of Graham’s character type might work better in other things, but they were fine enough in this movie that it’s unbothersome to have him there. Like I said before, though, the real pull here is Rob Morgan, who endears himself to the audience with maybe twelve total words over the course of the film. There’s a sneakiness to how the Morgan gets you to care about him, this Messer that keeps showing up just to bring Tom Hanks some food, and if the movie did a lot more of that with other characters, it might have fared better as a story.
Ultimately, what the movie is is just a ninety-minute chronicle of how the mission went, no more, no less. That will work for some people, and to be honest, I didn’t mind it while things were happening on screen, but when the credits roll, and one has to reflect on what you’ve just seen, there’s little to take away from the film apart from its intensity in the action sequences, or Rob Morgan making perhaps the deepest impression on the viewer despite only having about 3 scenes to speak of. What character development there could have been feels cut short, and what clarity one could have had in regards to knowing not just how but where everything was happening feels lost amongst the scramble to keep the film exciting and moving along. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly disappointed by Greyhound on the whole, but to be honest, we’ve seen a lot better from WWII thrillers, and although I liked his performance very much, and he’s got promise as a screenwriter, we’ve also seen better from Hanks.
I’m giving “Greyhound” a 6.2/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.