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Clocking in at a remarkably brisk 85 minutes, GREYHOUND is a lean and mean action thriller that runs like clockwork, even if it’s never truly remarkable at the same time.
Depicting the first Atlantic crossing of Commander Ernest Kraus, an aging naval officer recruited for duty after Pearl Harbor, the film captures three days and nights of the hellish journey as the Allied convoy faces German U-boats at every turn. Kraus commands the titular Greyhound, a destroyer class warship, tasked with protecting the merchant and civilian vessels at all costs. As the first night begins to darken, the Allied radios stir with a message from the German U-boats: “we are coming, you are not safe.”
The script, written by Tom Hanks who also stars, is hugely economical and sparse with most of the dialog dedicated to military jargon and barked orders about potential U-boat sightings. A lot of it is impenetrable for anyone but the most dedicated fans of the genre, but the classy and unshowy directing by Aaron Schneider and Hanks handling leading duties propel the story in such a way that understanding everything isn’t necessary. As with a film like JAWS, we understand the threat from below and that’s all that matters.
Shot on a reasonably limited budget (for a film of this type), GREYHOUND occasionally creaks with some questionable CGI and repeat shots to save on effects. But these are minor quibbles as the majority of the important stuff happens on the weathered faces of the cast. They are mostly unknown actors, with only the occasional visit from the ever-reliable Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan, which makes for great dramatic sense. We’re supposed to pay attention to the captain of the ship, and what better way to emphasize that than to cast one of the most affable leading men in cinematic history?
Elsewhere Elizabeth Shue shows up for a cameo and one of my favorite actors, Thomas Kretschmann, is relegated to the thankless role of voicing a Nazi U-boat captain. Surely there are better roles for both of them somewhere?
GREYHOUND is notable for two reasons: it’s a highly realistic film about the American experience in the Second World War that never sacrifices detail for pandering. Secondly it’s decidedly not jingoistic nor filled with empty bravado like so many others of its kind. Hanks has dedicated decades into depicting these stories with accuracy and precision, most notably in his work with Steven Spielberg in BAND OF BROTHERS. This is a passion project, and it shows.
And how nice it is to watch a movie that knows exactly what it is and how long it should be. There’s no bloat here, no unnecessary scenes or drama or padding. It may not have any great dramatic arcs or relatable characters, but sometimes that’s OK. It allows us a glimpse into the minutiae of serving in an unimaginable environment, and while its point of view is limited to the deck of the Greyhound at least it retains that scope so decidedly that it becomes a strength all on its own.
Unfortunately the film is only released on Apple TV+, meaning that most will not be able to see the film without purchasing an expensive streaming device from them first. With very few noteworthy productions currently available otherwise, GREYHOUND by itself is hardly a strong enough selling point to splurge on a new format just yet.
Hopefully this film will find its way into theaters sooner than later, or at the very least on a blu-ray with ample extras on the history and making of the material. Surely great adult drama like this deserves to be seen as far and wide as possible.
Until then, mark this on every watchlist you’ve got. It’s well worth your time.