Hanks in command but 'Greyhound' runs aground

Hanks in command but 'Greyhound' runs aground

There is an early moment in Tom Hanks’ latest film, “Greyhound,” between his character, Capt. Ernie Krause, and Elisabeth Shue’s Evelyn that epitomizes the entire film. On the verge of leading his newly assigned ship, nicknamed “Greyhound,” across the Atlantic to Western Europe, Hanks asks Shue to marry him.

“I can’t,” she responds. “The world has gone crazy. Let’s wait until we can be together.”

It leads one to believe this is a moment to which we will return. Flashbacks, when telling personal stories of World War II, can be an effective storytelling tool. But …

It spoils nothing to tell you this is the only moment the two share the screen because Shue all but disappears from the story and, with it, any emotional depth for them, and the film as a whole.

Now I do not expect a love story to infiltrate a World War II battleship movie, but I would argue giving backstory on leading characters always makes an audience care a little bit more about them. And Hanks might be better at this than anyone acting; he made us fall in love with a volleyball after all, but here, even with Hanks filling almost every scene, the film fails to deliver.

The movie, adapted by Hanks from the novel, “The Good Shepherd,” written by C.S. Forester, follows Krause leading a convoy of ships all carrying supplies, weapons and men to join/support the Allied forces. Unable to yet fly across the Atlantic, there was a five-day period, known as the “Black Pit,” where ships were without the protection of airborne forces and were vulnerable to German U-Boat attacks. “Greyhound” tells this five-day story with Krause leading the charge.

If any war story being depicted on screen begs for emotional depth, one would think the claustrophobic confines of a battleship would allow for that. We are introduced to, but never really get to know any of the crew. Other than the African-American cook, played by Rob Moore, who seems more aware of the physical toll the constant German threat is taking on Krause than his own command crew, there is no real connection between story teller and audience. The best war films, some of which Hanks has either starred in or produced, do this quite effectively. Sadly, “Greyhound” does not.

The subpar special effects and naval jargon that at times weighs down the dialogue and scenes only add to the frustration to what genuinely could have been a great film.

And I do think it could have been great because there are some great moments. Most impressive throughout the film is Hanks’ command. He delivers a sense of authority to his crew, and his pained facial expressions, with every guarded and anguished decision he makes, feels like life or death. The occasional radio communication with the German submarine, the “Grey Wolf,” provides an otherworldly eeriness that only adds to the worry and fatigue of Krause. The few quiet moments, with Krause praying in his captain’s quarters before taking the bridge, feel authentic. Sadly, these moments are few and far between.

In the days of COVID-19, “Greyhound,” to my knowledge, is the first direct-to-streaming film (playing on Apple TV) not geared toward children. It was slated as a big budget, summertime release, and perhaps it would have felt “bigger” sitting in the movie theater. Perhaps, expectations were too high, as we all beg for any form of new entertainment.

Thankfully, the family and I took advantage of the one-week free trial for Apple TV to watch “Greyhound,” but one does wonder what this film would have felt like on the big screen. Maybe the special effects would have played bigger; maybe the scenes in the wheelhouse of the ship would have been more wrought with tension. Or maybe I would have left disappointed, having spent money on a film that could have been so much more but sadly sinks in the Atlantic.

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