Another day, another film that was meant for theaters going to streaming.
“Greyhound” is set during the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, and follows an American escort ship captained by Tom Hanks (who also wrote the script) as it faces off with German U-boats. Rob Morgan and Stephen Graham also star as Aaron Schneider directs.
Originally slated for a May theatrical release, this film was sold to Apple TV for a whopping $70 million after coronavirus hit (if you think that is a lot of cash to pay just for distribution rights, this week Apple spent $105 million to acquire the Will Smith slavery film “Emancipation”). Apple is hoping this increases the worth of their digital library (their subscriber base is tracking behind what they initially hoped), and while “Greyhound” is not the next “Saving Private Ryan” I thought it was a very effective, tautly paced war picture.
Everyone loves Tom Hanks, and this was clearly somewhat of a passion project for him as it’s just the third feature script he’s ever written. Based on C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepard,” this isn’t necessarily based on a true story, however it does depict a World War II conflict that doesn’t always get the screen time that its Western Front and Pacific Theater counterparts do. Hanks plays Ernest Krause, the commander of a destroyer, who is on his in the middle of his first command. Hanks, like everyone else here, doesn’t have much character development (there is a single flashback scene with Elisabeth Shue to try and add any amount of depth, and it was surely the easiest paycheck of her career), but his Everyday Joe likability makes us root for him.
Somewhat like “Dunkirk,” I think that we don’t get much detail or backstory on these characters because it is meant to drop us into that world and have the “this could be me, my son, or anyone” mentality. The supporting players, including Rob Morgan, Stephen Graham, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, all do solid work filling out this 1942 world, even if you don’t really bother to remember their names.
But who cares about character development; this is a war film! We’re here to see things go boom! And luckily the ship battle sequences deliver. This thing was shot on about a $50 million budget, pretty modest for the genre, and besides some wonky greenscreen sequences early on the staging and the effects are pretty effective. There are points you feel the emotional impact and scale of the events taking place (Hanks remarks after sinking a U-boat that those weren’t simply Germans they killed, it was “75 souls”), and one intense sequence racing against the clock and a leaking oil tanker really had me getting anxious. It also shows just how technical and exacting war can be, especially when it comes to sea battles; every second spent and degree on map matters.
Aside from the thin characters, the only real issue I have here is the leader of the German submarines continuously radios into Hanks’ ship to scold the Americans, and he comes off like a cartoon character in an otherwise moderately somber film.
“Greyhound” is certainly worth checking out if you have Apple TV, and at just 91 minutes it is refreshing to have a war film (or any movie, for that matter) that wastes no time getting into things and chooses not draw out its runtime for the sake of self-indulgence. In what has been a weird year overall and solid-but-not-great year at the movies, I think this film ranks among the best we’ve gotten in the first half of things, and at this point, like the Americans in World War II, we’ll take a win anyplace we can get one.
Critics Rating: 8/10
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