No modern-day actor is more inextricably linked to World War II films than Tom Hanks. In addition to starring in Saving Private Ryan, he also served as a writer, director, and producer for the miniseries Band of Brothers, and produced and narrated the miniseries The Pacific. He now returns to the war he knows so well with Greyhound.
Having tackled the lives of men in the Army and Marines in other projects, Hanks now turns to the Navy. He stars as Captain Krause, who’s at the helm of the U.S. destroyer Greyhound, which is charged with protecting a convoy of ships delivering supplies to the troops in Europe early in the war. Their enemy is a seemingly never-ending stream of German U-boats, aka submarines.
The film, directed by Aaron Schneider and adapted by Hanks from the C.S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd, takes the day-in-the-life approach to the story. After a brief prologue involving Krause and his girlfriend Evelyn (Elisabeth Shue), the film takes place entirely on the water, with Krause doing everything in his power to keep the convoy and his own ship afloat. Although the story transpires over several days, the effort by Krause and his crew is non-stop, giving the film a constant tension.
There have been plenty of submarine movies over the years, but relatively few have centered on naval ships. That alone turns out to be enough reason for Hanks and the rest of the film’s team to return to the well-worn subject matter of World War II, which is one of most covered subjects in film history, if not the leader.
The film is full of naval jargon that sounds impressive but will likely go straight over the heads of 99 percent of viewers. The cumulative effect is of a commander in full charge of his men and the battles at hand, and of a crew that has been expertly trained for situations like the ones they’re facing. Sure, mistakes are made, but they’re rarely fatal ones.
The firefights are almost all-CGI, but they are impressive nonetheless. The barrage of gunfire large and small, depth charges, and torpedoes combine to make the majority of the film tense and intense. But the filmmakers almost always concentrate on the larger picture, forgoing most individual heroics for a picture of a group that works together seamlessly.
One character that is highlighted turns out to be a misstep, as it’s a half-hearted inclusion of a black character, mess mate George Cleveland (Rob Morgan). His official duty appears to be to bring the captain food whenever he needs it, and the portrayal has a wrong stench right from the start. There’s lip service paid to some off-screen heroism by him, but overall it would’ve been better to leave this particular character out of the film altogether.
Hanks is completely at home in the role of the calm, steady, and virtuous Captain Krause, but that’s not to say that his acting is not impressive. He doesn’t have any individual standout moments, but few could inhabit a role like this with such ease and precision. Also great are Stephen Graham as executive officer Charlie Cole, Tom Brittney as Lt. Watson, and a handful of others who help Hanks be all that he can be.
There’s little need for more World War II movies in this day and age, but Greyhound is an example of how riveting they can still be over seven decades after the fighting ceased. And with Tom Hanks leading the way in every sense, you know you’re in good hands.
Greyhound is playing exclusively on Apple TV+.