Greyhound review – World War II drama offers old-school thrills

Tom Hanks writes and stars in this brisk and breezy tale of naval heroism as yet another captain charged with a crisis at sea

As an actor and producer, Tom Hanks has guided audiences through some of the most dramatic days of the Second World War, from D-Day in Saving Private Ryan to the Battle of the Bulge in Band of Brothers to the sweaty hell of Peleliu in The Pacific. Now, as both star and screenwriter of Greyhound, he brings us to a new front of history’s greatest conflict, the naval Battle for the Atlantic, where American and British ships faced off against deadly German U-Boats in the fight to bring vital supplies from the US to the front lines.

Hanks plays Ernest Krause, the commander of the destroyer-class ship Greyhound, who lands his first wartime assignment protecting a supply convoy in the open oceans. The action takes place across the 48 hours during which the convoy will be too far away from either American or British territory to be in range of air support, which is of course when a pack of German submarines decides to strike.

Hanks’s screenplay, adapting CS Forester's novel The Good Shepherd, keeps things brisk and breezy. We almost never leave the ship across a runtime that is only 80 minutes without credits – remarkably short for a modern war movie. This quick pace is Greyhound’s greatest asset – it’s consistently engaging without wearing out its welcome, and even packs in a decent number of genuinely thrilling set-pieces as the submarines engage the convoy in open battle. Rapid, jargon-filled dialogue swiftly immerses you in this world and all the fears and dangers it holds.

Unfortunately, this does come at the expense of character work. Only Krause gets to be more than two-dimensional, everyone else essentially acting as machines for exposition or panicked shouting. Even usually strong actors like Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan can’t do anything with their thin roles as Krause’s confidantes, and the single non-war scene – a flashback to Krause’s love life featuring a cameo for Elisabeth Shue – is bafflingly stilted.

Hanks himself is a reliably solid presence, of course, particularly when selling the freezing cold of the mid-Atlantic and the sheer exhaustion of having to command hundreds of men and thousands of tons of metal for 48 straight hours. Aaron Schneider’s direction, meanwhile, is rather workmanlike – this is Hanks’s film through and through, after all – and a little over-reliant on some merely functional effects work, but does occasionally find room for a bit of flair.

The balance of humour and horror that so defined Hanks’s WWII TV projects is largely absent in Greyhound, which is mostly sombre and sincere and unconcerned with the messy morality of war. The stoic Krause is a kind-hearted hero (he even gets multiple shots where he’s framed with a halo), and the Germans are cast as comic-book villains, occasionally tapping into the American communications to say things like “the wolves are hungry and you will die” over the ship’s PA system.

It is a simplistic and perhaps even shallow story, though this doesn’t feel too problematic for a film with aims this modest. It’s an exciting, unchallenging hour and a half with explosions, sinkings, and the old-school tension of a hostile radar ping getting closer and closer as our heroes wait with baited breath.

Greyhound is now streaming on Apple TV+.

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