Tom Hanks writes and stars in Greyhound, a short, sharp, and single-minded suspense thriller that’s as brisk as its title suggests – here’s our review.
There’s a key moment in Greyhound in which Tom Hanks and Stephen Graham’s characters hash out the contents of a distress signal before sending it. They decide to pare it down to make it as short and straightforward as possible, and it’s significant that this is the closest thing this relentless thriller comes to pausing so that characters can talk to each other about something other than the very next move in its feature-length battle sequences.
Opening with snippets from wartime addresses by Churchill and Roosevelt, Greyhound takes place in the heat of the battle of the Atlantic, but it’s early days for America’s involvement in the war. As well as providing the screenplay, Hanks plays Ernest Krause, a man promoted in the wake of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and given his first naval command on the USS Keeling in February 1942.
Codenamed Greyhound, the Keeling is a destroyer that’s assigned to escort a convoy of merchant ships and supplies across the ocean to Liverpool. But three days away from its destination and 50 miles from air cover, the convoy is attacked by a Wolf pack of German U-boats. Inexperienced though he is, Ernest must shepherd his men and the other ships around them through the Nazi onslaught and avert total disaster if he possibly can.
Hanks’ script is adapted from a novel, C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd, but the tone of the film feels more like it was based on a factual tome. This extremely economical story doesn’t put anything in the dialogue that can’t be done with a look instead, which results in very technical to-and-fros between the cast over the course of their ordeal and emotive flashes of fear, grief, exhaustion, and uncertainty between relayed orders and exposition.
If you’ve read Uncommon Type, Hanks’ 2017 prose anthology of short stories, you’ll recognise the register of this glancing but impeccably researched tale. The 90-minute running time (which is closer to 80 if you discount the closing credits) lends to that feeling too. Director Aaron Schneider is well matched to Hanks’ screenplay, maintaining an unflinching close-quarters view of the Keeling and her crewmen throughout the exceptionally brisk running time, turning what could have been a slight wartime affair into a more muscular picture.
As sparse as the dialogue is, Hanks is well placed to enliven it. From the performances to the blocking, everything feels calculated to highlight Ernest’s inexperience, largely commanding much younger men who are nevertheless more experienced at it than he is, not to mention better fed and rested. From both a writing and acting point of view, the captain’s shaky rapport with his crewmen only adds to the uneasy feeling. Still, the film knows that’s enough and leaves little recourse for melodrama, save for the occasional Nazi radio hijacking, (creepily voiced by Thomas Kretschmann) where a voice from the deep taunts Ernest and his men.
What’s more, Hanks is surrounded by a supporting cast that can act between the lines, from Graham’s Brooklyn-accented executive officer Cole to Rob Morgan’s sadly underused chef Cleveland. There are also bookends featuring Elisabeth Shue as Evelyn, the woman Ernest wants to marry, but these stick out in a film that’s otherwise lacking in character ballast. Frankly, in all other regards, the film is extraordinarily single-minded.
However, the pared-down approach pays dividends, with Schneider’s unerring, claustrophobic focus on the characters on board the titular vessel ramping up the suspense. Added to the visceral impact of the seamless visual effects in the battle scenes, composer Blake Neely does sterling work with a percussive main theme, which ticks away like a metronome in the scenes between enemy contact and ramps up the suspense in the more screech-worthy moments.
Due to the nebulous nature of streaming viewing figures, it remains to be seen whether the film will miss its target audience by skipping cinemas and being released as an Apple TV+ exclusive. It’s the sort of film that could have made a tidy profit throughout a cinematic run, thanks to older audiences who would lap it up, but as it stands, Greyhound offers no-frills, all-thrills “dad movie” action.
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