Directed by Aaron Schneider (Get Low), Greyhound is a visceral experience that attempts to create the terrifying realities of the Second World War. While film’s distribution change is completely understandable given the global situation, Greyhound is the first true cinematic victim of the pandemic era. Featuring broad visuals and incredible sound mixing, Greyhound is a film that truly needs to be experienced, rather than taken in at home. As a result, I found myself wishing that I could feel every crashing wave on the big screen, as opposed to my television set.
Greyhound transports the viewer back to February 1942 and follows the journey of U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks). For his first war-time command, Krause is assigned to lead an Allied convoy across the Atlantic during World War II. Forced to travel without air support across the area known as the ‘Black Pit’, his convoy is suddenly pursued by German U-boats. Despite his anxiety about the situation, Krause must remain steadfast and committed to his crew if he is to successfully lead his convoy across the Atlantic to safety.
Adapted for the screen from Forester’s classic war novel, The Good Shepherd by Hanks himself, Greyhound is an intense ride that moves along at a rapid pace. While most blockbusters today seem to be pushing their length well beyond 2 ½ hours, this film is surprisingly brief in its runtime. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, Hanks’ script makes good use of its time, rarely giving the viewer a minute to catch their breath amidst the drama. While it’s not surprising that Hanks turns in another solid performance as the steady but overwhelmed Krause, his handling of the material shows yet another skill that he’s developing in his career. As only his third screenplay after Larry Crowne and That Thing You Do!, Hanks has a clear vision in mind for the project and follows through well.
Continuing the trend of recent films such as Dunkirk and 1917, Greyhound reframes the depiction of war by moving away from focusing on specific characters and their relationship to one another and instead drops the audience in the middle of the drama itself. Similar to recent efforts, Greyhound offers little backstory to its characters yet somehow maintains the fact that every one of them is important. Deliberately muddled audio and an ever-moving camera gives the film a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ quality and, in doing so, brings further reality to the moment. Because dialogue is often blurred (or, frankly, nautical speak), the drama can be a little confusing at times. Yet, at a moment when men are fighting for their lives, the decision to muddle what’s spoken somehow adds to the authenticity of the piece as well. Besides which, there is simply so much happening visually at any given moment that there is simply no time to have lengthy soliloquys about the value of man. What matters most in Greyhound stems from the viewers immersion of it. In essence, you may not always understand exactly what’s being said… but you can feel it.
Unlike war films of the past that glorify the mission, Greyhound recognizes that glory stems from survival. As his first war-time command, Commander Krause is not a man who seeks personal glory but rather one who genuinely cares about the souls of others. A devout man of faith, it is apparent throughout the film that every soul is important to Krause. He breathes out Scripture as prayers for those around him. He mourns the loss of his own men and the lost lives of those on German U-boats that he’s forced to defend himself against. He even refuses to eat the elaborate meals he’s offered in order not to differentiate himself from his men. Like the Scripture verse that hangs upon his wall, Krause is a man who seeks quality of character ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’ and understands the essential value of every soul with whom he comes into contact.
In many ways, it is appropriate that the film is adapted from a book called The Good Shepherd, for that is what Krouse is. For him, what matters most is the soul of each soldier who have put themselves on the line. When one man is lost, Krause mourns. When many are lost, he mourns. (In fact, the film highlights this idea at its close by mentioning that 72, 200 souls were lost during the war making these journeys.) In Greyhound, every soul matters, regardless of nationality.
Though the story is fictional, Greyhound feels like an authentic trip into the midst of the Second World War. Even so, while the visuals are spectacular, it’s the film’s focus on the importance of the soul that sets it apart. With each bullet fired or crash of the waves, the film’s focus and attention to detail points to the tragedy of war and the value of every human life. Despite the terrifying chaos of the situation, it’s in the moments of contemplation that Greyhound really finds its true worth.
Now, if only I can find a theatre that’s open so I can see it on the big screen.
Greyhound premieres on Apple TV+ on July 10th,, 2020.