Numerous streaming services have benefited from the lack of theatrical competition during the COVID-19 pandemic as movies have been forced to revert directly to streaming with theaters closed down. Apple TV+ made the move to throw its hat in the ring by inheriting its first original feature film release, “Greyhound”, which debuted this weekend. Starring and written by Tom Hanks and based on C.S. Forester’s 1955 war book “The Good Shepherd”, “Greyhound” takes viewers right into the cockpit of an American destroyer during the Battle of the Atlantic as a convoy attempts the dangerous journey through the Mid-Atlantic gap with German U-Boats waiting to pounce. Short sweet and relatively to the point, “Greyhound” is an engaging and intense war flick that serves as a stripped down and uncompromising examination of a more primitive time of Naval warfare during one of the most famous conflicts in modern history.
“Greyhound” stars Hanks as Commander Ernest Krause of the USS Keeling, code named Greyhound, during World War II and pretty much focuses on him as he directs his crew through several days of cat and mouse games with a group of German U-Boats that call themselves a Wolf pack. His decisions and leadership on his first ever commanding mission during the war decide the fate of his men, two British destroyers and nearly 40 allied ships. As the centerpiece of the story Hanks brings his trademark spectacular performing style to the role presenting us with a nuanced and capable leader who isn’t exactly the most confident in his abilities seeing as this is his first mission. Of course things go awry and the convoy is targeted by the enemy submarines putting all of his cunning and training to the test which makes for an intense hour-and-a-half of sea battles as the Greyhound and its fellow ships try to outsmart and outgun their submerged German foes.
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a flaw, but it is worth noting that this film is pretty light on character development. We don’t really get to know the rest of Krause’s crew and while there are other notable names in this movie we only really get to understand Krause. Even then all we learn is that this is his first mission, he has a wonderful love interest he wants to marry at home (played by Elizabeth Shue), he has a strong faith and he’s a quick thinker. Really though that’s all we need to know. These aspects of his character define his motivations, his relentlessness, his approach to leadership and his resolve. So, it’s not really a problem per say, but “Greyhound” is definitely more interested in the action and atmosphere than it is helping us know who these soldiers are as people. We know enough about the one person we really need to understand and Hanks, as usual, does a spectacular job bringing him to life.
“Greyhound” really is about the conflict and the struggles of war time in an era where technology was primitive compared to what we deal with today. Yes, they have radios, but they’re easily detected so the ships use Morse code lighting to communicate. Their radar works but it’s not perfect and their ammunition and aiming capabilities are limited. It really puts into perspective the struggles ship crews faced back in those days and the relative horrors of trying to fight an unseen enemy while looking out for the convoy you were instructed to protect. This film’s purpose is to put us right in the middle of a conflict at sea like no other war flick has before and it accomplishes that focuses completely on the sea battle whereas other films have only slightly touched on the war on the water. “Greyhound” is by far one of the best examples of pure, grade-A war action on the Naval front of World War II. It also should be no surprise how well this movie captures the movements and chaos aboard a ship with a minimalist style since director Aaron Schneider was the second-unit director of photography for “Titanic”. He clearly learned from his experience on James Cameron’s immortal 90s classic.
“Greyhound” isn’t a complicated film to watch or understand and its short run time keeps the action perfectly paced. This cinematic exploration of Naval warfare during World War II hits all the right notes with a capable director and a committed lead and writer in one of the best actors of his time, Tom Hanks. What it lacks in character depth it makes up for in action and suspense as an uncompromising examination and rendering of the chaos of a World War II at sea. If you get the chance to access Apple TV+ this film is worth being the first thing you check out and if you don’t have a subscription you can sign up for a seven day free trial making this an easily accessible war film that should definitely be experienced.