On receiving his honorary Oscar in 2013 from Tom Hanks, the brilliant Steve Martin said: “Everybody loves Tom Hanks. What a talent. I saw Captain Phillips. I didn’t think it was so funny.” Well, he’s not wrong, on all counts but what has always been true is that, whatever he does, it is impossible to not like Tom Hanks. Whatever character, whatever film, you immediately feel like you are in the presence of one of cinema’s true greats and as soon as his latest lands, there’s a flurry of bums of cinemas seats. Sadly, his latest is heading to the small screen with Apple TV+ but don’t let that deter you as Greyhound is still well worth seeking out on whatever screen you decide.
Based on real events that took place just after the US entered World War II, they lead an international convoy helping merchant ships navigate the North Atlantic. Their mission was to protect them across what the officers had dubbed “The Black Pit” given the lack of air support allowed through those waters. Leading the charge from the US to Liverpool was commander Ernest Krause (Hanks), a seasoned-yet-inexperienced leader who, with a 37-strong convoy, begins to ferry the troops back and forth risking their lives knowing the enemy forces are becoming a smarter and more agile threat with their use of submarines and soon enough, they are set upon by seemingly never-ending strings of attacks.
Written by Hanks, who has always expressed his admiration for those that served through the generations, he makes the decision to keep things focused on the frontline rather than padding the film with any unnecessary waste and, for the most part, it works rather well. As soon as we hit the ships, it’s full steam ahead for 80 minutes essentially in the tight confines of the control rooms with Krause and his shipmates, with director Aaron Schneider keeping everything in earshot: alarm bells ring, explosions seem only feet away and the tension flows through the film like the bumpy seas it takes place on. Indeed, without the luxury of a multi-million dollar budget, those CGI-enhanced sequences – of which there are lots – are hugely convincing with some fraught editing and impeccable sound design to back it up.
As a piece of drama, however, we never go below surface level: the film opens on a flashback of Krause and his fiance Evie (Elisabeth Shue) before he sets off, but we never get to know him or any of those brave men alongside him. Perhaps this was the point, though, as, with any war, men are thrown together and never know if they will come out alive, which only adds to the sense of impending dread that flows through its spare runtime. That said, Hanks as ever is superb and his warm yet imposing figure is exactly the kind of man you would follow into battle, even if the endgame was not returning.