“Greyhound”, which was initially supposed to be released in US theaters in last month but then released instead on Apple TV+ in last week due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reminds me again of what a good movie star actor Tom Hanks has been during last two decades. Since he showed the more serious side of his talent via his Oscar-winning role in “Philadelphia” (1993), he has gradually established himself as a modern-day equivalent to James Stewart, and, just like Stewart, he has been pretty good at embodying decency, integrity, and many other wholesome human values, as recently exemplified well by a series of various films ranging from “Captain Phillips” (2013) to “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019).
In “Greyhound”, which is adapted from C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd” by Hanks himself, he demonstrates again his undeniable star quality as dutifully carrying the film, but, unfortunately, the movie somehow feels flat and anonymous despite its commendable efforts on mood and authenticity. Although it is a well-made war film packed with several intense and realistic battle sequences, the movie often overlooks human details as focusing more on procedures and maneuvers during its short running time (91 minutes), and it ultimately comes to us as something no more than your average disposable World War II flick.
Hanks plays Commander Ernest Krause, the commanding officer of the USS Keeling. It is early 1942, and Krause and his ship, which is codenamed “Greyhound”, are leading a multi-national escort group defending a merchant ship convoy which is sailing to Liverpool, England. Because he has no previous wartime experience, Krause has already been quite nervous, but he stoically keeps his growing nervousness to himself, while diligently handling the ship and its crew members as usual.
The movie gives us in advance the background information on the Battle of the Atlantic, which was one of the most prominent battles during the World War II. Once it entered the war after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 December, the American government began to send numerous merchant ship convoys to Britain, and there was always a considerable risk of getting attacked by those German submarines in the ocean. Although the convoys and the escort groups defending them could rely on protective air cover around the beginning and end of their voyage across the Atlantic, there was a wide middle area called “Black Pit”, where they had no choice but to defend on themselves as being out of protective air cover for at least 2 days.
As his ship enters this highly dangerous area along with many other ships, Krause and many others on the USS Keeling naturally become quite nervous, and there soon comes the attack from a German submarine. Fortunately, Krause and his men eventually destroy that German submarine mainly thanks to his strong leadership, and everyone on the ship is naturally excited about that, but Krause is well aware that this may be just the beginning for what they will have to go through during next 48 hours.
Of course, his worst fear turns out to be right. There is a group of German submarines lurking somewhere around Krause’s ship and other ships, and Krause and his men subsequently come to see how lethal their main opponent can be. At night, Krause’s ship and other ships are far vulnerable because of the lack of clear sight, and those German submarines certainly grab the opportunity when it inevitably comes to them.
Mostly staying close to what is going on around Krause and several men under his command, the movie provides a number of suspenseful moments as required. At one point later in the film, Krause and his men must be precise in controlling their ship for avoiding two torpedoes approaching to the USS Keeling second by second, and director Aaron Schneider, who won the Best Short Film Oscar for his short film “Two Soldiers” (2003), and his crew members did a good job of generating a palpable sense of danger on the screen.
However, despite this and other effective battle sequences, the movie did not engage me enough mainly due to its deficient storytelling and characterization. Although Hanks’ screenplay is authentic in its realistic depiction of military procedures and maneuvers, many of other main characters in the film besides Krause are not fleshed out enough to interest us, and Krause is also rather bland and colorless despite the dedicated efforts from Hanks. To be frank with you, I had some difficulty in distinguishing one crew member from another during my viewing, and I also struggled to sort out all those other ships around the USS Keeling.
Besides Hanks, you may notice a few notable performers appearing in the film, but they are mostly stuck in their functional roles. While Stephen Graham, who recently appeared in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” (2019), does not have much to do except constantly standing by Hanks, Elizabeth Sue is saddled with a thankless job of playing the unnecessary love interest of Hanks’ character, and Rob Morgan, who was terrific in “Mudbound” (2017), manages to leave some impression during his brief appearance.
In conclusion, “Greyhound” is not a bad war movie at all, and it is buoyed by Hanks’ genuine screen presence to some degree, but it feels rather superficial in terms of story and characters. I admire its many authentic technical details which will probably excite those military history buffs a lot, but I still think the movie could be improved more via adding more personality and humanity.