If there’s such a thing as a good ol’-fashioned war movie, Greyhound fits the bill. Starring, written and produced by Tom Hanks, the film (streaming on Apple TV+) is an economical yet highly-charged World War II-set matinee flick. All that’s missing is the fake-butter popcorn and the sticky floor under your cineplex seat, but in these COVID-19 times, we can make do.
Set in the early months of the war (February 1942), Greyhound tells a very straightforward story of a snapshot in time—specifically the journey of a 37-ship convoy of relief and supply ships headed across the Atlantic toward Europe. The first and last couple of days of the journey are a cakewalk, given that the convoy is close enough to terra firma that Allied planes can provide air support, but the middle 50 hours is when things get hairy, as they traverse the “Black Pit” with no cover from Nazi submarines.
Leading the convoy is the USS Keeling (codenamed “Greyhound”), helmed by Commander Ernie Krause (Hanks), and waiting for them all in the depths of the ocean is a flotilla of German U-boats. Heavy on the Navy jargon and just as heavy on the drama and suspense, Greyhound presents a very elementary point-A-to-point-B story that is refreshing in its simplicity. That structure not only helps ramp up the tension but allows ample time for the audience to get to know the characters and also become imbued in the scene—the vast majority of the film takes place in the cramped bridge of the Keeling.
From the meek, still-green messenger boy (Lee Norris) to the unphased, seasoned XO (Stephen Graham), the men on the boat become living, breathing seamen, which only makes us more invested as we sail along with them through the Pit. At the center of it all is Commander Krause, and the always-reliable Hanks once again takes an everyman and turns him into a hero as only he can. Using subtle looks and barely perceptible nuance, he makes the fictional Krause as believable a character as Hanks’ real-life portrayees Chesley Sullenberger, Richard Phillips, and Jim Lovell were.
Director Aaron Schneider (Get Low) takes a relatively modest $50 million budget and injects a slew of above-average visual effects to give us a wholly immersive experience. And Hanks’ screenplay, based on C.S. Forester’s 1955 bestseller The Good Shepherd, sounds as authentic as a documentary on the subject might feel. Though a few more frames could have been added to the 91-minute runtime (an all-too-brief flashback featuring Elisabeth Shue as Krause’s back-home love interest feels out of place and unnecessary as it stands), the meat of the movie packs a powerful punch and is sure to provide a little patriotic shot in the arm at a time when it feels we could really use one.