Director – Aaron Schneider
Cast – Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Elisabeth Shue
Nothing good ever happens when Tom Hanks is left to wander at sea, but he certainly comes back with some excellent movies. Greyhound — Hanks’ new film, which he also wrote — is no Cast Away, though. At an hour and 22 minutes long, it’s a lean action thriller which gives its star another excuse to revisit an era that is clearly very meaningful to him.
Having co-produced both Band of Brothers and The Pacific for HBO, in addition to his iconic starring role in Saving Private Ryan, Hanks’ dives back into World War 2 with the enthusiasm of a child being told to ignore homework for a couple of hours and play with his toys instead. And he has millions of dollars at his disposal to realise his most swashbuckling fantasies.
Watch the Greyhound trailer here
This could have come across as a little self-indulgent, given the characters’ tendency to speak in jargon, but there’s an innocence in everyone’s eyes that is impossible to ignore.
Impeccably staged and thrillingly tight, Greyhound tells the story of a first-time captain (Hanks, no stranger to playing captains), and the tremendously difficult situation he is confronted by on his maiden mission in command. An international fleet of 37 ships, loaded with goods vital to the Allied cause, must cross a treacherous stretch of the North Atlantic sea without air support for five days. Mere hours after being told ‘Godspeed’, the fleet comes under attack by a Wolfpack of Nazi submarines.
What unfolds is a rather relentless survival drama, in which Hanks’ Commander Ernie Krause is forced to lead by example, and fend off the Nazi attack with only his instincts and courage to guide him. A crucifix makes a couple of crucial appearances, but Greyhound is a largely secular story.
This image released by Apple TV Plus shows Tom Hanks in a scene from Greyhound.
Director Aaron Schneider structures the film almost like Jaws, and tries his best to give personality to the metal monsters at its centre. Every time the camera cuts to a ship, a documentary-style name card pops up, identifying it. This doesn’t do much to help you tell one ship from the other — to the layman’s eye, they all look the same — but it certainly adds a sense of character to these machines, which, to the men assigned to them, must surely have felt like fellow soldiers.
Alas, if only Hanks had treated some of the human characters with the warmth that he has for the vessels. For a movie in which the interpersonal interactions are mostly restricted to sharp orders and replies of ‘aye, sir’, Greyhound is best enjoyed for the spectacle. The waters may be deep, but the characters most certainly are not.
But Schneider knows he needn’t worry with Tom Hanks at the helm. The actor squeezes every last drop of his charismatic screen presence into Greyhound, playing Ernest as a sort of, well, earnest extension of himself. Forced to reprimand a couple of unruly soldiers, he says, “Restore the relationships you have damaged and fill me with peace.” And the soldiers, God bless them, drop their heads in shame and comply. That’s the power of Hanks. In the film’s sole instance of swearing, the culprit instantly apologises. Rude words have no place in the presence of Tom Hanks.
It’s difficult to tell, however, if Greyhound will find its intended audience, which I’m assuming is older men, on Apple TV+. Yanked from theatres because of the coronavirus pandemic by original distributor Sony, the film was quickly offloaded to the fledgeling streamer. An iPhone won’t do justice to its grand action sequences, and neither will Apple’s relatively small subscriber base do any favours for Tom Hanks.
But despite everything, being anchored on Apple’s shores for the rest of eternity is still a favourable outcome for Greyhound. It would have been torpedoed in theatres.