On the one hand, Greyhound does its best to pass as a technically proficient chronicle of a captain commanding a destroyer during wartime. However, for all the effort to deliver a lean, mean naval thriller, it doesn’t capture too much emotion. That’s partially by design, but with almost nothing to latch onto, beyond the stern looks given by the always reliable Tom Hanks, Greyhound ends up landing flat on the water, without making too many waves leading to a more inspired film.
Still, it makes sense to see “America’s Dad” put together the prime idea of what makes a dad film. Having written the screenplay, Hanks seems to have wanted to put his admiration for the Navy and continued interest in WWII on display. He’s adapted this story from a 1955 novel by C.S. Forester, the prolific author responsible for the Horatio Hornblower series and The African Queen, among other works. While Hanks may not have directed the film, handing the duties off to competent but low-status director Aaron Schneider (Get Low) still feels like a means for collaboration to be a significant component.
Set during the war, the story concerns Hanks’ Captain Ernest “Ernie” Krause, a career officer commanding the USS Keeling (call sign “Greyhound”) through dangerous North Atlantic waters, while being pursued by a group of German U-boats, referring to themselves as a wolfpack. While clearly the authoritative figure, Krause’s devout nature has him also dealing with self-doubt in the heat of battle.
At just over 90 minutes, including credits, this is not a film that wastes much time. Being a WWII picture starring Tom Hanks, a certain expectation could leave one to believe this is another epic of sorts, with extended periods at sea, or even a look at the other side. That’s not the case with Greyhound. Following a quick bit of setup showing Krause’s relationship with his parting girlfriend, Evie (Elisabeth Shue), the film finds itself devoted to the plight of Greyhound, and how to properly guide it.
This is an action-heavy feature that’s occasionally quite riveting but certainly handled with an authentic touch. No, I can’t say what’s accurate and what isn’t, but between Forester’s novel and the kind of research Hanks did in crafting this screenplay, there’s a clear dedication to acknowledging the various men onboard in the appropriate way, delegating specific tasks to the right place, and reporting findings, locations, and alerts properly. I believe there to be an audience for this sort of film, but I can also understand the lack of appeal it may have to a general audience during a regular Summer movie season.
For all the efforts to play as an appropriate tribute to those who served in WWII, the approach at being somewhat impersonal and cerebral only allows the film to go so far. We can see the conflicted looks in Hanks, whether it’s contending with how to approach the immediate threats or dealing with the deaths of some fellow crewman. Still, we’ve seen this before and do not have a film allowing for any further evolution of these ideas. Despite capable efforts from strong supporting players Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan, there’s little else going on with the characters to make anyone specifically stand out, outside of the inherent drama that comes from being attacked.
From a construction level, the creation of these intense naval battles via CG is mostly pretty effective. We’re a long way from elaborate model work, but for a mid-budget film, I never found myself too concerned with the visual portrayal of these ships and subs at sea. A lot of that does come from the precise nature of the orders and information being passed along by various men. All of this works towards making the film feel as though proper information is being communicated, and we are seeing the corresponding actions in a way that allows us to be forgiving of budgetary limits.
I can’t say there’s much more to the film as far as the cinematography or even the score. There’s an attempt to make this all feel rousing, and let every major action moment be heard in both the sound design and by way of composer Blake Neely’s heavy musical arrangements. However, there’s only so much work that can be done to have me on board with what’s being attempted by this feature. There are a lot of nice shots to project a sense of scale, and the music wants to ratchet up the intensity at times. Still, while not weightless, there’s only so much here to connect with.
Greyhound feels like a film doing all it can to play efficiently enough, despite lacking more to make it meaningful. The passion from Hanks is there, and he turns in an emotionally reserved but compelling performance. Still, the film only goes so far to expand its story to a higher level emotionally or as an exciting examination of naval operations. It merely plays as a competent action picture and a war-themed procedural. That may allow for smooth sailing to some degree, but there are no greater depths below the surface with this feature.
Greyhound will be streaming exclusively on Apple TV+ starting July 10