With WW2 and war films continuing to permeate film culture, it is no surprise that Tom Hanks would find himself at the helm of a war destroyer in open seas. Greyhound (2020) represents Apple TV’s first proper dip into distribution of a large scale film, and for the most part, it is a clear and simple adaptation of C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel, The Good Shepherd.
The film centres around Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks), a US Navy Commander who has the mission of escorting a large convoy across the Atlantic during WW2 while German U-boats (submarines) stand in the convoys way. With air support unavailable in the central part of the journey (known as the ‘Black Pit’) due to the range, it is up to Krause and his crew to keep the convoy afloat as they carry their supplies to Allies.
Unlike Hanks’ prior performances in war films Saving Private Ryan (1998) and sea escapades like Captain Phillips (2013), Greyhound sees the two-time Oscar winning actor play a more fixed and vocal role. This isn’t necessarily a drawback of the film as Hanks’ screenplay cuts out all of the fat and exposition that often subsumes most war films, and instead settles on the action at sea and the man at its centre.
Director Aaron Schneider, known for Get Low (2009) and Two Soldiers (2003), complements Hank’s more vocal and contemplative temperament by focusing in on the tension of the battles and the ferocity of the sea. Schneider keeps most of the film centred on the bridge of the ship in order to effectively heighten the tension of each given moment and capture the spacial limitations and helplessness of being out at sea. This makes for plenty of thrilling moments as the German U-boats circle like a pack of wolves (as they assert) while Krause and his crew yell out bearings and directions.
In terms of some of the production aspects, the action and battle scenes are predominately CGI’d, but they hold up for a budget of US $55 million. Also, Blake Neely’s score complements the CGI’d battles in its low tone that has a constant sonar echo, and the dull green/grey colour palette is fitting for the period being depicted.
When comparing the film to other war films of recent like Dunkirk (2017) and Hacksaw Ridge (2016), Greyhound is more limited in its scope and ambitions. Not much is known about the character of Ernest Krause; there is a brief insight into his past as a commander at Pearl Harbour as well as a pre-Greyhound scene involving his significant other. However, for the most part, Hanks and Schneider want to keep the attention solely around the ship itself in order to immerse audiences in the Greyhound ship experience.
For what it’s worth, that on-ship isolation works in removing all the weight of narrative expectations that some might see as being essential (including yours truly). However, unlike something like the aforementioned Dunkirk, the same level of practicality that comes with a Nolan war film and the diversity of tense moments isn’t the same here. That might be due to the lack of space that comes with being at sea, or it might be the repetitive nature of the films events that Hanks and Schneider knuckle down on. Regardless, there isn’t much leg room to wiggle into backstory and character building that one might expect.
For a first major feature on Apple TV, Greyhound is rife with Navy lingo and sea battles, and with Tom Hanks at the helm, it makes sense that it received Oscar nominations this past year. As a war film, it isn’t as compelling as some of the films mentioned, but it is clear in its focus and objective and for the most part, it manages to provide an engaging viewing experience.
Greyhound is streaming on Apple TV