Review: Greyhound

This 2020 American war film is directed by Aaron Schneider. It stars Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Elisabeth Shue, Rob Morgan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Tom Brittney. 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, America is now involved in World War II. A convoy of 37 Allied ships, led by Commander Ernest Krause (Hanks), is crossing the treacherous North Atlantic to England.

Without air-defence and navigating stormy weather, the convoy is soon hunted by a wolf-pack of German U-boats that begins to pick off the convoy one by one. Commanding lead destroyer USS Keeling, call-sign “Greyhound”, Krause must lead his men, and convoy, to England and repel the attackers before the Germans manage to sink them all…

Adapted for the screen by Tom Hanks, the veteran actor and war enthusiast also stars in this WW2 thriller originally due for a cinematic June 2020 release. Sadly proving to be another victim of the Covid-19 pandemic across the industry, Apple bought the distribution rights to premier it digitally in July. While a big shame not to experience this thundering war film on the big screen, it’s another positive and industry-changing step that this was bought for small screen digital release on a major media platform just one month later.

Within 10 minutes of a stormy, mid-Atlantic introduction to the state of Allied forces in the war, the battle-lines are drawn and the oceanic stage is set. A convoy of warships heading to Liverpool, England is without cover crossing the open sea known as ‘The Black Pit’. Around them a pack of Allied-hungry German U-boats circle and close in for a devastating attack. Just like the wolf-pack they are collectively known as, these hulking submarines toy with the convoy, forcing hasty decisions, wasted fuel and suffering cold temperatures, icy winds and rough seas.

A huge positive in this maritime thriller is the runtime. Just under 85mins is almost unheard of these days bar direct-to-DVD efforts or TV movies. For a major summer release of such calibre, this runtime is very rare, but very welcome. No time is wasted padding out a story, or delving into laborious character development that detracts from the urgency of the story. Everything is laid out tight and established the strengths and weaknesses of our leading men (and woman) from ship captain to ship cook.

Tom Hanks, a veteran of the war genre after such works as ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Band Of Brothers’, adapts the 1955 C. S. Forester wartime novel ‘The Good Shepherd’ for a brisk, non-stop nautical thriller that is one of the best maritime war efforts in recent years. As destroyer Captain Ernest Krause, Hanks plays a man who has seen years of harrowing war, but never wains in his duty as a leader of men who count on his expertise, his compassion and his courage. Hanks is, once more, an expert of his craft and instantly watchable and likeable as Krause. Hunted by the relentless German U-boat forces, he has to think fast and for the safety of his men and convoy. He shows strong morality and faith, praying before meals and referring to fallen enemies as “souls”, not “Krauts” as his officers do. He doesn’t even choose to eat hot meals while his men suffer and the pursuit is on. There are strong ethics you can’t fail to like within Krause, and you want him to survive for not just his military command but to get back to his sweetheart, Elisabeth Shue.

With strong support from Stephen Graham as his second-in-command, Rob Morgan as the cook (and backbone of the ship) and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as navigator, this unit of men is strong and have an established camaraderie you fall right into. There’s no need to extensive backstories and each one to have a “reason to fight”, you simply see them in action, fall into their world and will them to survive.

While this war-film may not be for everyone, since this is a very authentic nautical experience compared to land or air, the attention to detail is nothing but perfect. Everything from the weapons used, the terms of navigation, references to radar, navigation and the chain of command are all as authentic as expected. With filming taking place on a real frigate too, it’s this no-holds-barred effort that makes for exciting, dramatic and immersive viewing with some truly brilliant visual effects that bring the story to life, below and above the waves.

The action is relentless, and it doesn’t need to be all cannons blazing to be exciting and intense. The cat-and-mouse hunt never lets up, and the Germans attack without warning, or use nightfall to cause blind-friendly fire, coming through radio channels with gloating threats and taunting words. But this isn’t an action film without heart and time to reflect on the band of brothers serving on the ship. There are small moments of emotional hurt, reflection and hope peppered throughout for these men, but the danger and threat is never gone. This is a story about survival as it is war. You can always see the convoy in the background, and you can feel the urgency thanks to a haunting score by Blake Neely that is as eerie as the seas we sail on.

With a climax free from excess, Greyhound is strong on heart with some beautiful cinematography by Shelly Johnson capturing the soul of who Krause is.

The only real negative to this slice of maritime action is that is couldn’t be experienced on the big screen where it would soar even more that it does on the small.

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