Military-themed movies don’t come more retro than Greyhound. The film stars Tom Hanks as the captain of a U.S. naval destroyer escorting a convoy of supply ships to WWII-torn England that comes under attack by a wolf-pack of Nazi submarines. Originally scheduled for a March 2019 theatrical release, Apple acquired the film from Sony Pictures and released it on its Apple TV+ streaming service in July 2020. If you’re not a subscriber, chances are you’ve heard little about this film. I sure hadn’t.
I’ve always been a sucker for “submarine” movies. One of my earliest movie memories is of seeing 1969’s Captain Nemo and the Underwater City at the American Theatre in Pittston, Pennsylvania. (No, I didn’t see 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea till years later.) After that, anything underwater hooked me, from Run Silent, Run Deep to The Bedford Incident to Operation Petticoat and, of course, The Hunt for Red October.
Most films to date have focused on the Captain and crews of the submarines as the try to avoid detection by other subs or surface ships. Greyhound focuses on the commander and crew of a U.S. destroyer whose name, I don’t think, is ever revealed (“Greyhound” is slang for “destroyer”.) It takes place almost completely on the bridge and deck of the ship.
Hanks plays Captain Krause, an inexperienced naval commander on his first escort mission. The most dangerous time for the convoy is the 72 hours it will be out of range of air cover and, sure enough, when they cross into that “Black Pit”, a pack of Nazi submarines lies in wait.
The screenplay, by Hanks himself, is based on the novel The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, best known for the Horatio Hornblower series. Most of the dialogue consists of Krause barking orders and the crew responding. There’s little in the way of character development, though Krause’s faith pops into play every now and then. Elisabeth Shue has little more than a cameo as the gal he leaves behind, or who leaves him behind as the story has it.
Running a scant 91 minutes, Greyhound is all noise and action with the occasional dip into the clichéd – SPOILER ALERT – You just know the mess attendant who keeps trying to get the Captain to eat is gonna buy it in the end.
Look, I know the old Hollywood films used models and replicas to stand in for ships and subs, but they somehow feel more real than the CGI effects that probably comprise 75% of this film. There’s a veneer to those scenes that give them a level of phoniness that just constantly screams “THIS IS FAKE!” What makes the film is its editing and sound design. Films set in a submarine always feature the need for “quiet”. It’s a very different story on the deck of a destroyer. This film is LOUD, but necessarily so.
Hanks has the gravitas and quiet authority to pull off the role and there’s good support from Stephen Graham as Krause’s Executive Officer but this film ain’t about the acting. It’s about torpedoes and depth charges, cannons and guns, and explosions and sinkings. 91 minutes of that is just about the right amount of time to tell the story and not overstay its welcome. It truly is a throwback to old Hollywood storytelling gussied up with the latest in SFX. Nothin’ wrong with that.
So, will Krause get the convoy through? C’mon, it’s Tom Hanks!
Greyhound is streaming exclusively on Apple TV+