By John H. Foote
Now Streaming on Apple.
Tom Hanks has enjoyed a solid history with the war genre. In fact World War II has been very good to the two-time Academy Award winning Best Actor. Hanks was first seen in a war film in the brilliant Saving Private Ryan (1998) for which he was nominated for an Oscar, while the film won five Academy Awards including Best Director for Steven Spielberg, his second such award in five years. In addition, the film won Oscars for its cinematography, film editing, sound and sound editing only to famously lose Best Picture to the jaunty, ribald but lesser Shakespeare in Love (1998). How does the finest directed, shot, cut and sounding film lose Best Picture? It is a glaring error I suspect the Academy would like to take back.
Next for Hanks was producing with Spielberg the miniseries Band of Brothers for HBO, followed by the magnificent The Pacific, one of the great achievements in television history. Simply stunning in its startling recreations of the epic, though ugly conflict in the Pacific theater against the fearless Japanese, this 10-hour mini-series was TV at its finest. The Pacific won the Emmy for outstanding mini-series, well deserved.
With such grand success in bringing WWII to the screen, why does Greyhound fail? More often than not, the film resembles a well created video game, the look of the ships and subs very artificial. In the great German film Das Boot (1982) we saw up close the intensity of the living conditions aboard a German sub, while director Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Hanks’ own The Pacific (2010) presented in accurate detail life aboard a war ship.
Greyhound just … does not.
Hanks both acts as Krause, given command of a destroyer, the USS Keeling, to lead a fleet of 37 warships into the Atlantic where German submarines await them, and wrote the script. This happened in early 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbour and was among the most aggressive moves America took into the war.
In addition Hanks wrote the screenplay, adapting the Forrester book “The Good Shepard”. At a tight 80 minutes, the narrative shows great economy and is historically accurate, but not a lot of time is left for character development. Not even Hanks, a whiz in elevating his performance above the film (see 2004’s The Terminal), can manage to bring his Krause above the narrative. Oh he leads, is brave because deep down he is as afraid of the subs as the men on his ship, yet forges on anyway. That makes him a hero in my book, and the Second World War has so many.
With such a short narrative, it becomes difficult for the rest of the actors to make much of an impression around Hanks, and truthfully no one does.
The director, Aaron Schneider, captures the vastness and titanic fury of the sea, and the film, essentially a cat and mouse style film, is mildly entertaining. But as we never are permitted to get close to the characters, we never are able to care for anyone save Hanks.
Over the course of his impressive career, Hanks has been both comedic and dramatic in such films as Big (1988), A League of Their Own (1992), Philadelphia (1993), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Apollo 13 (1995), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Cast Away (2000), Road to Perdition (2002), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Captain Phillips (2013), Bridge of Spies (2015) and most recently A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019). He rarely disappoints but he does here.
If anything positive can be taken from the film it might be that not heroes wear silly costumes and a cape. And some are following orders.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.