It is really hard to believe that Tom Hanks has been gracing our screens for over forty years now, and, by the looks of it, he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. There is a certain something that he exudes every time he steps in front of a camera that comes across both on the big screen and small. It captures your attention and won’t let go.
As far back as the early eighties when he played Buffy/Kip Wilson on the cult classic sitcom Bosom Buddies, right through the 1990s where he walked away with back-to-back Academy Awards all the way until today. He is not the showiest actor and does not manifest the undeniable physical presence as you would find with someone like The Rock. Yet, he demands the audience’s attention and rightly so.
Hanks works his magic again, this time back at war in his latest film Greyhound where all eyes, both the viewer’s and his ship’s crew, remain locked on him like children looking to their father for comfort in a dangerous situation. He plays Captain Ernest Krause, who commands the Navy destroyer USS Keeling (codenamed Greyhound), to lead a convoy of 37 ships across the North Atlantic as part of the Battle of the Atlantic. The ships carrying much-needed troops and supplies were left susceptible to attack once they were beyond the range of air cover making the mission incredibly dangerous. The convoy must navigate its way through the unprotected middle of the ocean which is infested with threatening German U-boats that have one goal, to wreak havoc on their fleet.
The film feels like a throwback to war films of the last century with a terse minimalist approach that locks viewers in with little room for relief from the tension. The camera closely follows Krause as we are shuffled down the narrow hallways into tight control rooms full of anxious faces awaiting their next order. The film is lacking in character development and delivers all but a sliver of a subplot, keeping the focus on the task at hand- protecting these ships. There’s no crew of colorful characters or inspiring go-get-em’ speeches to drive emotional arcs.
The closest we come to a fully-developed character is Krause, a man plagued by his own self-doubts as he wrestles with the momentous task of protecting the welfare of the young sailors and ultimately the world. We learn little about him besides that he has a fiance (Elizabeth Shue) waiting for him home and that he is a religious man who relies heavily on his faith. During lulls in the madness, he finds moments to bow his head and pray for strength while always keeping a brave face for his crew. The limited exposition forces the viewer to read the situation for themselves. Much of Hanks’ performance is subdued and delivered through his eyes. He seems stoic at times with only pensive stares and contemplative gazes revealing the inner struggles in his head – the fear, the wartime strategizing, and the moral conflicts. It is an understated and effective performance.
Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay, delivers a lean script steeped in realism that often feels like a maritime procedural… in the best way. We become a fly on the wall right smack into a WWII maritime battle. Nautical terms are barked out with fierce intensity as the cogs in this machine of war are put into desperate action. Lines of dialogue like “hard rudder left” are commonplace, passed along from sailor to sailor in a deadly game of telephone where one misstep could spell doom for an entire ship of troops.
The combat sequences are assembled to precision immersing you right into the action. Fast-paced editing, combined with Blake Neely’s menacing score, squeezes out every ounce of tension. Torpedoes are launched, cannons are fired and near-misses occur at a breakneck speed making it tough to catch your breath if you were not already holding it. Even more pulse-raising than the actual battles are the moments in between. Like in Jaws, it is the nervous anticipation that kills. We know the subaquatic enemy is out there ready to pounce, when and where will it strike is in the real question. It is all compounded by the eerie, taunting messages of doom from the German U-boat being sent directly over the ship’s radio (pricks).
Director Aaron Schneider delivers a taut naval thriller. The most amazing part about it is that he does so without using any water (something I did not learn about until after viewing). All the oceanic battle scenes were created using state-of-the-art CGI to deliver scenes that would exceedingly tough or even impossible with traditional filmmaking. Schneider’s cinematography background is put on full display as he uses this technology to deliver one of a kind perspectives. Although they are great to look at it can feel too calculated which contradicts the feel of the minimalist approach used elsewhere throughout the film.
This film begs to be watched on a large theater screen. It’s a gloomy canvas of deep blue-gray waves, skies, and enormous ships mixed with the chorus of crashing waves, roaring waters, and powerful mist. Some of which just will not translate well to handheld devices or computer screens. But if you must use them, focusing on Tom Hanks’ subtle and meticulous performance should carry you through any the rough waters. He’s the real special effect here in Greyhound.
Greyhound is streaming exclusively on Apple TV+.