Never has Tom Hanks missed an opportunity to pilot his own ship or sail his own boat in high-stake situations. But then perhaps that is what he is best suited for. Aaron Schneider’s World War Two drama ‘Greyhound’, for which Hanks wrote the screenplay based on C. S. Forester’s novel ‘The Good Shepherd’, sees him return as Ernest Krause, a U.S. Navy Commander assigned to leading an Allied convoy across the Atlantic, under which lurk German U-boats. This is Krause’s first wartime crossing, and one that doesn’t prove to be easy: attacked by the enemy in the “Black Pit” where protective air cover is no longer available, he is forced to make snap judgements in a bid to keep his men alive and his convoy safe.
‘Greyhound’ is fast and heated as Hanks marches back and forth between his crew, frequently donning a peaked cap marked ‘CPTN’. Krause has all of the attributes a wartime hero needs: valour, a lover at home (a short sequence featuring Elisabeth Shue), a souvenir of said lover, and a conscientious, human side that makes him the only person who shows remorse after Greyhound’s first kill (he uses the word ‘souls’ instead of the derogatory ‘Krauts’). However, the human side stops around there.
There is only so many times a character can use the word ‘range’ before it loses its meaning, for instance. Hanks inhabits for an hour and a half – minus brief intervals at the beginning and end – a non-stop torpedo of information where he hasn’t even the time to sleep or eat despite his chef’s numerous attempts to feed him bacon sandwiches and egg. We follow him, tired for him and tired by him, lost in a wave of maritime jargon. Running on cups of hastily drunk coffee, the captain slowly loses his ability to function, making a questionable decision and misnaming several of his crew – including confusing the only two black crew members on board. These slip-ups contribute to the urgency of Krause’s situation as, simply put, there are no slip-ups allowed. At one point, a crew member sneezes and gets a warning. Another gets embarrassed when he swears. The film even begins with two crew members apologising for fighting: the first declares “I regret the incident” and the other follows with the same statement, mirroring the repetition between crew members on their radio transceivers. Hanks manages to remain charming and polite throughout the action, never losing his temper or his calm. The crew operate robotically, calling out numbers, latitudes, longitudes and positions repeated numerous times and reported back to Hanks, who does the decision making in the same generic fashion. They are robots but within this frame of mechanical procedures are decisions that determine who lives and who dies. No doubt this is what forgives the film for its overly precise maritime vernacular and its tendency to overdo the technical side, and allows the viewer to see the bigger picture. Hanks’ interpretation of Krause as a composed face in a sea of pandemonium reminds us of the valour of these men who weren’t allowed emotion, and Shue’s rare appearances as Hanks’ lover are a testament to their inability to think about anything other than survival.
‘Greyhound’ is tense, owing mostly to the music, but the narrative lacks in originality and the cinematography is fundamentally basic, aside from the occasional shot of a U-boat which sometimes reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ in its way of following the underwater enemy. The Americans prevail, and German and English voices over the radio are annoyingly stereotypical: the Germans make for an overtly, if slightly comical evil villain as all of their ‘w’ sounds turn gratingly into ‘v’, while the English use words like “jolly” and sentences like “job well done”. Hanks is honourable throughout, but ‘Greyhound’ by and large remains a traditional film, with very few layers to give it anything other than an out-dated war drama status.
Greyhound is on Apple TV Plus now.