Greyhound (2020) is the second feature film from Cinematographer turned Director Aaron Schneider (the first being Get Low ). It stars Tom Hanks as Ernest Krause, who is serving his first voyage as the commander of a US Naval boat escorting a convoy in World War II. Hanks not only stars but wrote the screenplay adapted from C.S. Forster's novel The Good Shepherd, and leads a fine cast which includes Elisabeth Shue, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.
Both spiritual and tense in equal measure, Greyhound refers back to some of the best naval films in history - making particular reference to Das Boot (1985) but where that stretched the plot out over a number of hours, this film is 90 minutes of relentless action. Where it succeeds is in mimicking the claustrophobic and inescapable aspects of its cinematic ancestors. Where Das Boot was slow with moments of chaos, Greyhound condenses all those moments together, with Blake Neely's score even making musical call backs too.
The submarines that threaten Krause's convoy are likened to wolves prowling invisibly in the waters around them. The men embrace this comparison with the decoration on their submarine, and the taunting radio calls to those on the allied vessels. “The grey wolf is very hungry”. They are not completely dehumanised though, as Krause refers to the “50 souls” lost when they win one of their battles, in response to the crew referring to “50 Krauts” taken care of.
Hank's humanity and humility is central to what makes this film work. The lack of time spent developing Krause as a character is compensated for as the audience knows him already. In this film he is weary. As he is locked into a battle lasting 48 hours he sends for his slippers for his bleeding feet, gloves for his cold hands. The crewman bringing food adds some sense of time to the plot, as each plate is brought suggesting another number of hours spent fighting an unseen assailant. The cold creeps up the ship and various parts are coated in ice, adding another enemy to the one with the torpedoes. The sun sets and rises again. The sheer number of ships in that area of the Atlantic is portrayed with near misses and drastic actions to avoid collisions with friends as well as enemies. Some limited contact with other ships is made via radio, pulling the allied ships together as a team clinging together for survival.
As always with this type of film the scenes of working the sonar are particularly satisfying, as they use sound to pinpoint where their enemy is. This is an incredible act of skill which always adds tension and gives a fascinating insight to life on these ships. The action itself is well shot, nail-biting and impressive and with some moments that really belong on the big screen, it’s a shame we won’t get to see it there.
There are some issues in the film: the supporting cast which make up the convoy's crew are all given very little in terms of character development, are mostly nameless, and don’t have much to do beyond portray their jobs aboard the ship. A little more time spent getting to know some of them wouldn’t have gone amiss, and may have given more weight to the losses made in battle. Bookending the film with a prayer grounds Krause as a man simply doing his job. In resistance to his own doubts and troubles he requests forgiveness for his actions which compensates for any hint of jingoism that might make the narrow viewpoint a bit unpalatable for a modern audience.
Overall this is well worth a watch, with good performances and action, with just enough humility to keep it grounded. This is one for your television, not your tablet.
Greyhound is released on Apple Tv+ on July 10th.