Review: Greyhound (2020)

Distributor: Apple TV+
Director: Aaron Schneider
Writer: Tom Hanks, based on the novel by C.S. Forester
Composer: Blake Neely
Starring: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, Elisabeth Shue
Genre: War, Action, Drama, History

Tom Hanks’ newest World War II epic was slated for release on June 12th of this year before every movie release from March to July was indefinitely delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a decision by Sony Pictures, the film was sold to Apple TV+ as an exclusive release for the small burgeoning streaming platform. As of this weekend, the film is finally available for viewing. 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Some intense scenes of war fighting, explosions and gunfire. PG-13 level violence. 
Language/Crude Humor: Some strong profanity including one use of f***.
Drug/Alcohol References: None.
Sexual Content: None.
Spiritual Content: The lead character is a practicing Christian and prays in private.
Other Negative Content: None.
Positive Content: Themes of preserving human life, survival and love.

Review

A lot of criticism I’m seeing for the release of Tom Hanks’ newest World War II thriller, Greyhound, has to do with the film’s lack of strong characterization. None of its characters are deep and it’s not a terribly character driven film. The few attempts the movie does try to give its characters a deeper sense of personality all fall flat. Our central character, Ernest Krause, isn’t deeply defined. He’s a middle-aged man, he’s in love with a woman, he’s a practicing Christian, and he’s too nervous on his first assignment to eat or sleep. All we’re told about him is perfunctory stuff that gives us minimal investment in his survival.

Thankfully, our leading man is rounded out by being portrayed by Tom Hanks. Hanks is one of the most naturally likeable and famous actors of his generation. He’s also fairly well suited for a film like Greyhound, which he himself wrote the script and executive produced. Hanks has famously produced a cottage industry in Hollywood, starring in and producing World War II related projects like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Greyhound is somewhat of a step back in scale and cultural impact from those projects but on its own it reveals just how personal the subject matter of World War II is for him. 

The film is set in early 1942, at the height of Germany’s naval supremacy in the North Atlantic Ocean. U-boats are patrolling the ocean looking for unguarded American supply ships to pick off whenever possible. Against this, the US, Canadian and British navies have attached four small ships to protect a fleet of dozens of supply boats in dangerous waters. We follow the crew of the U.S.S. Greyhound, a destroyer and the nominal capital ship for this small fleet of defensive vessels. For the next 50 hours, the ships won’t have air support and so have to keep a watchful eye for German submarines. It only takes one torpedo to scuttle an entire ship and send hundreds of men and vital supplies to a watery grave. Given how many U-boats are skimming the Atlantic, their chances of stumbling upon them is high so the crew must stay on-call constantly should one or more U-boats be caught. 

Again there’s not much fat on this movie in terms of plot or characters. 
Greyhound comes at only 90 minutes long and it’s not a film designed to waste time. Its premise is so tight it doesn’t really even bother to try to make its characters complex. The movie cuts out moments of downtime between the naval engagements during the 50 hours and thus the entire runtime is either comprised of action scenes, setups for action scenes, or scenes lamenting the cost of action scenes. The movie wants you to feel as though the assaults against them are relentless and swift, and wants the fast pace to reflect that breathlessness.

Thus the limited character writing. If anything, the writing just wants the viewer to identify with the people whose lives are on the line. It’s a minimalist procedural that’s deeply invested in offering a realistic depiction of a World War II naval combat. In that, it’s solid if somewhat underwhelming work. It’s nowhere near as stressful as something like U-571, as dramatic as Fury, or emotionally devastating as Saving Private Ryan. Still, it’s slick, exciting and workmanlike even if it falls flat in a few places.

It’s a shame the movie is only premiering on Apple TV+. Whatever the benefits of this new streaming service, the movie as presented is beautiful to view and looks like it deserves a massive theatrical release to show off its intense visuals. Tom Hanks himself has lamented its limited presentation, saying that it’s lost a lot of its visual impact on the small screen. Circumstances abound though. If the COVID-19 lockdowns hadn’t shut down theaters, it would’ve been a theatrical release in June. Regardless, Greyhound is a solid action flick and worth seeking out considering the poor state of new releases this year.

Positives

+ Slick no-nonsense screenplay + Solid Tom Hanks performance + Great CGI and special effects

Negatives

- Limited and weak characterization

The Bottom Line

Greyhound is a slick and engaging minimalist procedural/action flick that fans of World War II movies will likely enjoy!

 

7.3

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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