A film review by Craig J. Koban July 17, 2020


2020, PG-13, 91 mins.

Tom Hanks as Commander Ernest Krause, USN  /  Elisabeth Shue as Eva Krause  /  Rob Morgan as Cleveland  /  Stephen Graham as Charlie Cole  /  Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Lopez  /  Karl Glusman as Eppstein  /  Tom Brittney as Lt. Watson

Directed by Aaron Schneider  /  Written by Tom Hanks, based on the book by C. S. Forester


Tom Hanks has had a creative love affair with World War II history that dates back decades, which began most famously by appearing in Steven Spielberg's Oscar winning SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and was followed up with producing HBO's splendid BAND OF BROTHERS.  

He returns to the fold by appearing in front of the camera and serving as screenwriter for the new fictional nautical WWII thriller GREYHOUND, adapted by the 1955 novel THE GOOD SHEPHERD by C.S. Forester.  One aspect that makes this battlefront piece refreshing is its approach in chronicling a frankly a very little scene combat theater of WWII.  That, and unlike so many other similar genre efforts, GREYHOUND comes in at a lean and trim 82 minutes (minus end credits), making for a highly efficient and economical picture.  Having said that, one of the casualties of this spare approach is that the film suffers from a lack of strong character development, leaving a work of flat dramatic impact.  But on a pure visceral level, though, GREYHOUND packs a sizeable wallop. 

The limited running time also doesn't allow for much of an overarching plot, but the basic nuts and bolts of it follows a U.S. Navy Commander on his very first war assignment in charge of a massive escort group of battleships that have been deployed in early 1942, just a few short months after America entered WWII.  Hanks plays Captain Ernest Krause, and his aforementioned assignment takes him on board the USS Keeling, codenamed, yup, "Greyhound."  The ship's primary function and mission is to safely escort nearly 40 supply and troop support ships through the very treacherous Atlantic to reach England, and all while fending themselves off from constant German bombardments and attacks.  The most dicey area that Captain Krause and his fleet have to cross is the so-called "Black Pitt," an aptly named section of the ocean that's so far and distant away from land-based civilization that any forms of air support is all but null and void and at least 48 hours away.  Rather predictably, the Captain and his gallant crew are called to face multiple threats and enemy waves of attackers. 

So....that's about it.  



I will say this: Hanks' efforts here as writer are noble minded enough, and he has made a career over the years of focusing on larges chunks of important aspects of WWII that haven't really been told.  Equally commendable is his yearning to celebrate the boundless heroism of these battle hardened seamen and the litany of sacrifices that they made in the line of fire.  GREYHOUND is no different that just about any other WWII drama that has come before it (outside of it being an amalgam of fact and fiction, leaning heavily towards the former), but we have had so very few war films from the perspective of the sea.  People shouldn't mock GREYHOUND because it's not technically based on any real characters or incidents, per se, but the whole backdrop of what Captain Krause and his fleet of protected ships went through was undeniably and eerily real.  The Battle of the Atlantic ran for several years and involved victories, setbacks, and many deaths.  That deserves to be highlighted. 

That, and as mentioned, GREYHOUND strips away an awful lot of fat from its bones, and some of this approach pays off handsomely.  Whereas other nautical themed war thrillers can span hours upon hours (see DAS BOOT), it's somewhat gratifying to bare witness to what a sleek vessel (no pun intended) of a piece this is, and all made to make us feel immersed within the sometimes tight and claustrophobic confines of these ships out at sea.  There's the obvious vastness of the ocean that surrounds Krause and his fellow multi-national ships, but there's next to nowhere to flee or hide under such circumstances from U-boat assaults.  Leading the charge with confidence is director Aaron Schneider, who disappointingly has not directed a film since his superb 2009 effort GET LOW.  It's great to see this filmmaker work outside of his comfort window and attempt something daringly different, going from a southern themed drama to an epic scaled war film on the Atlantic, and for the most part he seems equal to the task on delivering. 

Where GREYHOUND truly shines is in the area of visual effects and action set pieces, all done with thanklessly seamless (well...mostly) CGI and a lot of editorial symmetry and creativity.  The real challenge for Schneider and his production team here is to make every battle portrayed here feel unique and avoid the risk of repetitive sameness, and the cat and mouse games of survival and one-upmanship here is thrillingly realized through and through.  Schneider does an exemplary job of hurtling viewers headfirst into all of this sustained chaos, showcasing the terrified, but determined crews of the Keeling making every effort to stay alive and thwart their swarms of invaders.  There's definitely something to be said, however, about Hank's screenplay coming off as blandly procedural during these moments, and much of GREYHOUND involves substantial amounts of tech talk, military jargon, and maritime vernacular in the midst of battle (which is to be expected, I guess, in these films).   

Then again, that's part of the larger problem with Schneider's film: It suffers much of the same fate as the good, but severely overrated DUNKIRK in the sense that it's so bloody focused on the minutia of war, battle, logistics, and combat action that meaningful characters and fundamental emotional beats gets lost in the process.  GREYHOUND is less about people and more about war itself and the very nature of the battles of the Atlantic, and because of that focus and the very short running time the various personas contained within are not particularly interesting of well fleshed out.  Some are complete throw-away entities (like weird and awkward intro scene featuring Krause and his girlfriend - a wasted Elizabeth Shue - exchanging loving glances during a Christmas meet-up before he ventures into his assignment), whereas others (like supporting players played by Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan) aren't really given much to do outside of dispensing exposition heavy dialogue.  Too many of the military men here feel one-note and interchangeable: they're props being shuffled along this film's massive war chess board. 

As for central figure here in Hanks' Krause himself?  The multiple Academy Award winner is as stalwart as ever playing his stern faced and vigilant Captain dealt up with the unfathomably stressful predicament of being responsible for countless lives and supplies to continue the Allied war effort.  It's a subtle and restrained performance from Hanks, and done with the consummately smooth and assured professionalism that he's always had a positive reputation for.  Alas, I only wished that the screenwriter in Hanks gave his role more compelling levels of complex texture.  When all is said and done, he's playing a familiar Hanks-ian protagonist archetype here, one that's strong-minded, brave under fire, prone to vulnerable feelings of uncertainty while under intense pressure, but ultimately a faith driven man of action that gets the job done with an aw, shucks modesty and gumption.  GREYHOUND offers up a piece of comfort food as far as Hanks characters go, and for as solid as he is in the film it's definitely by no means a stretch for the actor. 

It sounds like I'm being pretty negative in the closing sections of this review.  Beyond what was just mentioned, GREYHOUND's overall approach does feel antiquated at times and seems like it's appropriating the style and tone of war films of yesteryear.  I don't typically like to use the moniker of "old fashioned" in the pejorative sense, but it kind of fits here.  Compared to many other great WWII films, GREYHOUND is a bit too muted and vanilla plain for its own good, not to mention that if you want to watch a truly masterful navel thriller also featuring Hanks embodying a military man of action that exudes courage under fire then seek out the infinitely superior CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.  Still, GREYHOUND is handsomely produced and efficiently made, but I sincerely think that it would have had a finer impact on me if I was afforded the opportunity to screen it in a cinema.  The film was another casualty (a frequent descriptor in my reviews as of late) of the pandemic, and was optioned for screening on Apple TV+ (even with my not-so-inconsiderable home theater setup, GREYHOUND'S visual and auditory impact would have made for a greater experience in cinemas).  If anything, it's the kind of film that positively reminds us why it would be shameful if cinemas died altogether in the wake of COVID-19 in favor of home streaming.  GREYHOUND deserves giant screen treatment, not home consumption or - God forbid - tablet viewing.  Newfangled ways to watch films will never replace good - ahem! - old fashioned cinemas.   

  H O M E