A temporary replacement for TMINE’s Orange Thursday feature in which I review a readily available movie you’ve probably already seen
There can be few movies whose star is heartbroken by its release, but Greyhound (2020) is one of those rare beasts. However, Tom Hanks is in no way ashamed of his work – an adaptation by Hanks himself of CS Forester’s The Good Shepherd, in which Hanks plays the captain of the USS Keeling (codenamed ‘Greyhound’) during the Battle of the Atlantic.
He’s just upset it’s on Apple TV+.
Not because of shame, but because he thinks it should be on the big screen.
And he’s right. It should be on the big screen. It’s a hugely exciting war movie that suffers considerably from being on a small screen.
But while various summer blockbusters have been postponed until later in the year or until next year and many big movies were predicted to go straight to streaming services without the benefit of a cinematic release, Greyhound is actually the first big movie casualty of the viral war.
Yet cinema’s loss is Covideodrome’s very real gain.
US navy commander Ernest Krause is assigned to lead an Allied convoy across the Atlantic during World War II. His convoy, however, is pursued by German U-boats. Although this is Krause’s first wartime mission, he finds himself embroiled in what would come to be known as the longest, largest and most complex naval battle in history: the Battle of the Atlantic.
Greyhound is probably one of the most exciting naval warfare movies ever made. It’s a relentless, all out, day and night assault, with about 10 minutes of let-up in its entire run – five minutes of which is at the beginning.
And I say that as a noted lover of all things naval (cf The Last Ship et al).
Focused almost exclusively on Hanks’ character as per its source material, it starts in flashback by showing the experienced but war-novice captain joining the US war effort post-Pearl Harbor. It then dwells entirely on the period of time Hanks’ ship is escorting merchant vessels to the UK when there is no air support to protect them from German U-boats. Of which there is an entire wolfpack.
The result is the Greyhound sailing up and down among ships, often scraping against them, firing depth charges, torpedoes, guns and more, assisted by just a couple of other allied vessels – and facing more or less the same weapons in response – for an hour and a half. All while executive officer Stephen Graham (This is England, Line of Duty) has to deal with failing radar, sonar and comms equipment.
If you thought the 33 episode of Battlestar Galactica was relentless, you’ve not yet seen Greyhound. The adrenaline is ever present and the excitement almost never stops.
You may wonder why I mention BSG, which was after all about spaceships fighting robots. Yes, I am a sci-fi nerd but more importantly, until now, BSG was (oddly enough) probably the most accurate recreation of Second World War naval warfare of modern times.
Certainly, there’s almost no compromise for audiences in terms of what it expects us to know, which was fine for me, who always has a Patrick O’Brian book and Master and Commander (2003) on his Kindle and is about to start rewatching ITV’s Hornblower adaptations. But it was probably only through virtue of having been a big BSG fan that Lovely Wife was able to parse the highly accurate naval dialogue and situations of Greyhound.
Still, if you have seen BSG, that does mean you’re well prepped – and you’ll soon be getting nostalgic vibes and transported back to some of that show’s best moments.
I also mention BSG because to a certain extent, Greyhound is very much a Das Boot-free zone, with the Germans little more than early-season Cylons. They don’t have the best battle tactics, we don’t see anything from their perspectives, what we hear of them is slightly laughable and beyond a little soul-searching by Hanks, the film doesn’t seem too concerned about their deaths. They are disposable plot devices in the search for naval excitement.
If that doesn’t bother you, maybe Hanks’ writing for the British and Canadian characters will. But only a little. It’s just a little American-centric.
Blowing its own Horn
While the movie is pretty much all action all the time, with some marvellous live action filming, some less marvellous CGI, there are some little stirring character moments interspersed that do actually make you care.
In common with Forester’s usual interests in ships’ customs and social rules, we see how the ship functions, who does what and when, right down to how people get fed – although there’s little time spent dwelling on Forester’s typical concerns about career and advancements. Hanks also dials back the book captain’s longing for his wife – Elisabeth Shue more or less cameos as the girlfriend Hanks never married but still longs for, but her presence is constantly felt.
While segregation doesn’t get mentioned, Aaron Schneider’s direction provides for lingering shots on black crewmates, usually in ‘servant’ positions but also among combatants, and Hanks’ facial acting is able to highlight his pains about the unspoken mores of society at the time.
The captain’s faithful Christianity is also another notable point regularly brought up but never commented upon, as he routinely goes to pray.
All of which adds up to not a character piece, but a timely look at sailors just getting on with their jobs in the worst of conditions – brave sailors with emotions and backstories, who are clearly all too human and with very little by way of protection from either the elements or the weapons of the time.
Greyhound to Trap One
Greyhound is a little bit American-centric but nevertheless is a hugely impressive summer blockbuster about a near-forgotten but highly important battle that should have been seen in cinemas.
But you can watch it for free on Apple TV+, so there’s clearly some pros to the coronavirus after all.