He lost command of his ship in Captain Phillips, but Greyhound proves that Tom Hanks will always be the captain. This tense odyssey lets a viewer experience the Battle of the Atlantic from the thick of the action. Playing rookie naval commander Ernest Krause, Hanks shows audiences his character’s journey from everyman to hero. Krause doesn’t sleep a wink during the 48-hours of battle and a viewer shares his exhaustion by Greyhound’s end. Greyhound, scripted by Hanks himself, is a non-stop thrill ride.
A Race Against Time
Taking a cue from Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Greyhound is intricately attune to elements of time during battle. The economical 91-minute running-time spans a 48-hour window in which Krause’s Greyhound destroyer is at the mercy of the elements. The ship leads a convoy of Allied warships across the Atlantic. As head of the pack, the safety of each boat rests on Krause’s judgement and Greyhound’s protection. However, Greyhound begins when the fleet’s air protection signs off for the journey and the convoy enters “The Black Pit.” This mid-section of the Atlantic marks a two-day journey in which the boats are left to defend for themselves while traversing the body of water that marks the point of no return for aircrafts coming from either side. The frigid waters of the Black Pit look doubly terrifying with the winds of February, 1942 when the title cards explain the fate awaiting Greyhound.
Hanks’s script structures the journey through the rotating command shifts of the boat. Each segment sees Krause quick on his feet as Greyhound encounters attacks by a wolfpack of Nazi U-boats. These U-boats have no mission other than to annihilate the fleet. Krause, new to a command of this scale, also knows that the Allied forces depend on the survival of each sailor and ship. Hanks lets viewers feel the full weight of Krause’s responsibility as he goes without sleep or food, noted by the painstaking efforts of head chef Cleveland (Mudbound‘s Rob Morgan). Cleveland fastidiously abides by the mess hall schedule and notes with disapproving concern and admiration each plate the commander returns untouched.
The action comes quickly and swiftly, and it doesn’t sag for a second. Director Aaron Schneider (Get Low) stages awesome battle sequences and uses the limited physical space of the destroyer as a sharp contrast to the open menace of the oceans. The rolling waves are deep, dark, and violently cold. They make the elements of the sea as terrifying as the unseen Nazis.
While the high-stakes, high seas adventure is obviously thrilling, the most riveting elements of Greyhound happen in the control room. The film, adapting the novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester, highlights the logistics, calculations, and instincts that separate the victors from the fallen in battle. Although the nautical jargon can be hard to parse, it’s a thrilling challenge to keep pace with Krause’s calculations amid the disorienting assault of the action. The film takes an immersive and experiential approach to battle that rewards.
Greyhound finds its true suspense in the exchanges between Krause and his crew. They listen intently to the sonar as each blip or pause generates suspense. They chart battle plans on maps, calculating speed and distance. Victory is as much as an outcome of using fuel and artillery responsibly, rather than blasting their foes with an assertion of strength. As the battle becomes a war of intuition, rather than might, the film draws upon the working class traits of its characters, illustrating how people from all occupations become heroes in wartime.
Greyhound‘s Crew and Commander
The swiftness and persistence of the action, however, limits the supporting characters to their ranks and duties. Character development is minimal outside of the admirable nuances that display Krause’s strength, honour, intelligence, and fortitude. Little details humanise him, like his abstention from food or his request for slippers to warm his feet. They also create suspense through mundane elements as a cozy slipper fails to match the protectiveness of a combat boot. Try watching Greyhound without tensing up each time Krause walks by a broken plate or share of glass. Some relationships do emerge between Krause and his crew, mostly Cleveland and Krause’s second-in-command, Charlie Cole (Rocketman’s Stephen Graham). Nevertheless, the tension could be even deeper if one cared more about the crew overall.
Greyhound also features a bizarre cameo by Elisabeth Shue in the opening sequence as Krause’s lover Evelyn. Appearing in a tender exchange as they trade gifts before his first mission, Evelyn adds little to the story. Shue’s appearance resembles a throwaway gesture to include a female character. Greyhound features little else besides a cutaway or two to Evelyn throughout the journey, again demonstrating how the unyielding action often persists at the expense of the characters.
However, as Greyhound places its chips entirely on Krause, it proves Hanks a bet that pays off. He’s one of Hollywood’s most reliable actors, able to create characters who feel like superheroes while resemble one’s own father. Hanks commands nearly every frame of Greyhound and the film hinges on the everyman appeal that informs his best performances.
Greyhound premieres on Apple TV+ on July 10.