When you have been a consumer of movies and television for a long time, eventually you get to play the “remember when” game with your favorite actors and actresses. Case in point: Tom Hanks. Remember when he starred in a TV show that was a riff on Some Like it Hot? (That was Bosom Buddies, which ran from 1980-82.) Remember when he starred in an adult sex comedy? (Bachelor Party in 1984.) Remember when he played a thirteen year-old kid transported into a thirty year-old body in Big (way back in 1988)?
Hanks has gradually shifted from comedic to dramatic roles since Philadelphia in 1993. Over the past twenty-seven years, he has sporadically used his gift for making us laugh, particularly with his voice over work for Toy Story (four films and counting), as well as leading roles in Forrest Gump, Catch Me If You Can and Cast Away. Hanks’ pure comedic roles have been few and far between these days, giving way to more dramatic roles which has resulted in two Best Actor awards and several nominations. Will Hanks ever star in a pure goofball comedy like The Money Pit again? I would pay to see it, if he did.
After several dramatic misfires (Larry Crowne, The Circle, A Hologram for the King), Hanks started a very successful run of historically-based roles over the past decade, including Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Bridge of Spies, Sully and The Post. After years of building up audience goodwill making me laugh, I inherently like and trust Hanks in whatever role he plays, dramatic or otherwise. He is our modern-day Cary Grant.
Which brings me to Greyhound. This is the second straight-to-streaming film I’ve seen where the runtime is only ninety minutes. I’ve gotten so used to big budget films being two hours or more, seeing a movie that runs less than two hours feels like a novelty. As with Palm Springs, I actually would have appreciated a longer running time. For Greyhound, the movie has had all of its fat trimmed. The movie begins with a brief interlude where Hanks’ Captain Krause proposes to Elizabeth Shue’s Evelyn. She politely declines, insisting they wait until he returns from the war before making long term plans. We next see Karuse at sea. I would have appreciated spending some time getting to know Karuse’s character better. He mentions to Evelyn that he will be spending time on several islands getting training before he finally ships out. Perhaps those scenes were too expensive to include, since none are provided. Based on the movie we have, this is a minor complaint.
The remaining 95% of the movie involves Captain Krause commanding the Greyhound, doing his best to protect a convoy of supply ships on its way to Liverpool, bringing desperately needed fuel and armaments to Liverpool. The convoy is protected by the Greyhound and two other ships, code-named Eagle and Harry, through a patch of the Atlantic called the “Black Pit”, where air support cannot be provided. With no air cover, the ships in the convoy are easy prey for German U-boats. For roughly three days, the three protector ships dodge torpedoes and attempt to destroy the U-boats with depth charges and artillery.
Hanks’ Captain Krause character is the most well-developed in the story. We learn that he is devout, praying before every meal and also before he turns in for the night. The movie effectively shows how all eyes are on him, second-guessing his every decision. The Greyhound is Krause’s first command, which came late in life and is due in large part to Pearl Harbor. He is aware that he would not have been the first choice to command Greyhound, and is aware that his crew probably shares that assessment.
The pressure of the responsibility weighs on Krause. He declines to eat or sleep while navigating through the roughest stretch of the Black Pit. He doesn’t celebrate when his crew sinks an enemy submarine, because lives have been lost due to his actions. He takes each convoy ship lost personally. In two brief shows of vulnerability, he first asks for his sheepskin jacket, and later, when he finds his feet are bleeding from the standard issue boots he has been standing in for three days, asks a crewmate for his slippers.
As I mentioned earlier, the movie is heavy on action. Most of the dialog consists of Hanks giving commands like “right hard rudder!” and “release depth charges!” There are no ironic asides or playful banter throughout. I’m confident in the movie’s accuracy, since Hanks’ is a history buff and wrote the movie’s screenplay, basing it on C.S. Forrester’s novel, The Good Shepherd.
One other minor quibble I have is that the CGI used to render the other ships could have been better. The special effects used in Midway and Dunkirk were much more convincing. Perhaps budgetary concerns were also an issue here.
Stephan Graham has several nice moments as Lieutenant Commander Charlie Cole, whom Krause uses effectively as a sounding board and confidant. Rob Morgan also makes an impact as Mess Attendant George Cleveland, who is also devout like Krause.
Overall, I was captivated by Greyhound throughout. Hanks’ performance is the focal point of the movie, and he delivers a convincing portrait of a career Navy man doing his best at a job he has been training to do his entire life. Instead of panicking, he unflaggingly relies on his training, knowledge and experience to see him through. If you appreciate war movies, you’ll definitely want to catch this one. Highly recommended.