Bypassing cinema screens in favour of Apple TV, director Aaron Schneider’s new film ‘Greyhound’ writhes with similar energy to that of The Battle of the River Plate (1956). However, unlike the aforementioned film, ‘Greyhound’ attempts to dispense with the classic bravado and stiff upper lip of 50s war films. Opting for a cat and mouse thriller where human emotion sits centre stage. In a screenplay adapted by Tom Hanks from the C.S. Forester 1955 novel, The Good Shepherd. However, despite attempting to place the nerves, emotion, and futility of war centre stage, this is a film that struggles to find its core meaning. Its deeper exploration of war lost in a 90 minute run time that never allows for character building.
Based around the real-life horror of securing North Atlantic trade routes during World War Two. There is much to admire in bringing the story of ‘The Battle of the Atlantic’ to the screen. The bravery of trade escort ships and abject horror of over 72,000 deaths at sea often relegated in film. With filmmakers focussing on land battles, dog fights and tanks in stories that forget the naval role in securing victory.
Tom Hanks plays the role of Captain Ernest Krause, a career officer on his first command. His vessel: the USS Keeling (call sign Greyhound), escorting 37 Allied trade vessels across the Atlantic to Liverpool. However, in doing this, the ships must pass through the ‘Black Pit’ a stretch of ocean unprotected by air cover; a no man’s land where German U-boats stalk their prey with impunity. Creating a 50-hour cat and mouse game of chess, where Captain Krause and his fleet are both the hunter and the hunted.
Within its screenplay, Hanks is once again determined to show that real heroes don’t wear spandex or capes. His portrayal of Captain Krause embedded in fear, apprehension and moral turpitude. A trait equally reflected in Hanks previous work on Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. However, unlike many of these earlier ventures, Greyhound lacks time in building an audience connection. Providing us with little more than a snapshot, rather than a full-bodied exploration of individual faith, motivation and belief. Leaving its audience enthralled yet equally frustrated at the lack of character development. This weakness is never more evident than in the men surrounding Hanks, each one lacking time to engage with the audience. The fear and innocence of the young crew ultimately left hanging, as a silent killer hunts each ship.
Visually Greyhound is both engaging and epic in construct; the ferocious waves of the North Atlantic battering the steel beasts who venture through them. The unforgiving power of the ocean a character in its own right in a film where the claustrophobia of naval warfare sits centre stage. The films use of sound only further enhancing the isolation, trepidation and brute force of the location. In a movie that not only reflects the bravery and resilience of the naval crews who fought during World War Two, but also the horror of their duty. And given more time, these attributes could have delivered a truly stunning film.
However, what we are left with is a short but engaging film, that feels lacking in both emotion and connection. Its initial promise lost in a screenplay that focusses too heavily on one man (Krause). Never allowing the crew under him to find their voice in a sea of danger and despair. And while this was undoubtedly the plan, in a story focussed on individual faith, it fails to reflect that no man is an island. Both their decisions and actions reliant on the bravery and support of the people surrounding them.
Director: Aaron Schneider
Cast: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Elisabeth Shue, Rob Morgan, Josh Wiggins, Tom Brittney, Michael Benz
Greyhound is playing now on Apple TV
Tom Hanks also appears in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
Stephen Graham also appears in Boardwalk Empire
Josh Wiggins also appears in Giant Little Ones
Michael Benz also appears in Joker