- Directed by Aaron Schneider
- Written by Tom Hanks, based on the novel by C.S. Forester
- Starring Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan
- Classification PG; 91 minutes
There is a fun but dangerous drinking game to be had while watching Greyhound, the new Second World War thriller starring Hollywood’s favourite history buff, Tom Hanks. Every time a character repeats an order from Commander Ernest Krause (Hanks) – such as “Left full rudder to 170!” or “Hard right rudder!” or anything to do with the word “rudder” – you have to take a shot. If you play by these arbitrary rules, you will be dead drunk by minute seven.
Such is the state of Greyhound’s naval-jargon-heavy script, which Hanks himself adapted from C.S. Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd, about a fictional U.S. Navy destroyer caught in the brutally real Battle of the Atlantic. In his bid to capture the accuracy of the devastating conflict – which I’m certain involved a lot of frenzied seaside shouting and urgent repeating of commands as German U-boats closed in – the screenplay forgets to ground its authenticity in emotion or character. We, of course, know why all these men are shouting indecipherable orders to each other as waves crash around them and fellow Allied ships sink to the bottom of a patch of ocean known as “the Black Pit.” We just don’t particularly care about who is doing the yelling.
If Hanks – who has shown decent storytelling chops before with his screenplays for That Thing You Do! and HBO’s Band of Brothers (let’s all collectively forget his comedy Larry Crowne) – was able to anchor Greyhound with at least one strong lead character, then matters might be more compelling. But aside from being a man of faith who utters a handful of Scripture passages to himself, Krause is presented as a hero without layers – a leader just as anonymous and disposable as the “aye, sir!” men who surround him.
Perhaps Hanks wanted to let the deadly 48-hour ticking-clock situation Krause and his crew face speak for itself: devastation as character testimony. But these kinds of maker-of-men movies always work best when we care at least a little bit about who lives and who dies. Hanks knows that better than anyone in the film industry, too, given his deep affinity for the genre (Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips, Apollo 13) – and it is a missed opportunity that director Aaron Schneider doesn’t push either his star, or his star’s story, more.
Where Schneider and his team do succeed, though – and it is hard to tell whether this stems from Hanks’s script or not – is the at-sea action. For a lazier filmmaker, making a water-set war film provides all kinds of opportunities to use rapid-fire cuts and indecipherable angles – a sort of, “Hey, these rain-soaked battles weren’t so easy to see in real life, either” excuse. Look, if you must, at Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, or last year’s dreadful Midway from Roland Emmerich.
But Schneider, whose only other directing credit is the extremely low-key 2009 family drama Get Low, finds a way to portray the nautical action with clarity and precision. You might not know what Krause and his crew are saying at all times, but you definitely know what they’re witnessing.
As an added bonus, the entire affair wraps up in a tight 91 minutes, with about 10 of those taken up by the end credits. I suppose if Hanks’s sole goal was to create a lean and economical thriller, he did his job just as well as Krause did his. Call him a hero – just don’t expect him to be larger than life.
Greyhound is available to stream on Apple TV+ starting July 10
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