Director: Aaron Schneider
Starring: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, Devin Druid, Karl Glusman and Elisabeth Shue
Run time: 1h 32mins
It’s 1942, and a convoy of approximately 40 ships containing troops and vital supplies for the Allied forces are attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach Liverpool. Taking charge of his first crossing in the USS Keeling (call sign Greyhound) is Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks).
Everything is going swimmingly until they reach an area known as the Black Pit. Protection from an air escort can’t reach this far out to sea, so they’re adrift and vulnerable to attack for a period of about five days. And that’s exactly what happens. Several German U-boats begin to stalk them, explosively picking ships off at their leisure. Krause is in at the deep end at must navigate the extreme conditions, make life-altering decisions and attempt to guide the fleet home as quickly and safely as possible relying on his training, guile and a healthy slice of luck.
Essentially a game of cat and mouse, Greyhound is relentless in its intensity as well as claustrophobically challenging. Hanks brings his assured everyman persona into play as he battles not only the enemy, but freezing weather and deep fatigue in what will become known as The Battle of the Atlantic.
At only 90 minutes long, there’s an awful lot crammed into the runtime. Several battle sequences are unbearably tense. Near-misses and friendly-fire threaten the crew’s safety and the mocking voice of the enemy submarine, Gray Wolf, infiltrating their radio system tests their resolve in a grotesque mind game which adds to the suspense. There isn’t time to get to know any of the characters (apart from Krause) and it could be argued the secondary players needed fleshing out. Stephen Graham as his right-hand man has little to do, Elisabeth Shue as his love interest even less, but this is very much Hanks’s film and to have extended it would risk losing the imminent threat from the high-energy stakes.
Based on the acclaimed 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester (the US Naval Academy even used it as one of their texts), this is clearly a passion project for Hanks. He wrote the screenplay and whilst there’s a lot of nautical techno-talk, the attention to detail and protocol is hypnotic in its delivery. Relaying orders, having them repeated back, bearings and coordinates continuously quoted as well as having the camera up close and personal, create an air of authenticity fully immersing the viewer among the action.
Greyhound is beautifully shot by cinematographer Shelley Johnson, with the untamed ocean raging majestically around the colossal ships (granted, there’s some CGI at play too) and the frigid temperatures reflected in the faded battleship greys and blues of their uniforms. One moment involving the Northern Lights hovering above raging explosions below is stunning. Blake Neely’s excellent score features eerie moments of what sounds like whale song, reminding us that the fleet is in the middle of nowhere and a long way from home.
Hauntingly atmospheric and featuring another fine Tom Hanks performance to add to his already overflowing catalogue of work, Greyhound is quick off the mark and rarely lets up, taking you on a perilous journey full of tension and drama.
Greyhound will stream on Apple TV+ from July 10th