Greyhound featured image.


Dept. of Hanksian Gumption


What a movie. What. A. Movie. Greyhound is a lean and remarkably well-told story about a singular act of bravery that relies entirely on a tightly plotted screenplay and the sheer charisma of Tom Hanks. It depicts the kind of quiet heroism that comes from everyday people just doing their jobs as best they can. And at its heart, is the sort of hero we’ve come accustomed to seeing Tom Hanks play. The hero without a costume or a cape. The hero who would flinch at the very thought of being referred to as one.

There is absolutely no fat here. There are no scenes of sailors reminiscing about good times back home. There isn’t a single character who bemoans missing the birth of a child. (You know the one I’m talking about. He usually ends up getting killed late in the second act.) There are no moments in which bloodstained letters need to be pried free from clenched fists.

The movie forgoes a narrative voiceover. As well as any sort of exposition. These are, after all, characters and situations that don’t need any introduction. We have met them all before at some point during our many trips to the movies. And Greyhound is smart enough to jump right into the action and keep us there, at the very edge of our sofas, for a breathtaking 90 minutes.

Tom Hanks stars in the war movie Greyhound.

The movie, which Hanks also wrote, is based on the novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester, and tells the compelling tale of Ernest Krause, a career navy man who, on his first command, has to lead a convoy of 37 Allied ships across the Atlantic in a relentless cat-and-mouse game with a pack of German U-boats. He has no air cover. Just a limited supply of munitions and the choppy seas to see him through this voyage.

Tom Hanks is back playing a part that has become almost a cliché. The steely, unyielding, never-say-die master and commander. He is reliable. He is cerebral. He is the man who always does what’s best and what’s right. In Apollo 13. In Saving Private Ryan. In Captain Phillips and Sully. He’s become so adept at these roles that the lines on his face speak louder than the lines in his script.

Ready for battle! Tom Hanks is Ernest Krause in Greyhound.

There is very little left to say about Tom Hanks the actor. He is just so very good at what he does, that he makes movies better just by being in them. And Greyhound is a movie that works as well as it does because of him. What I want to talk about, however, is Tom Hanks the screenwriter.

Now, this isn’t the first time Hanks has written a screenplay. That Thing You Do and Larry Crowne, both of which he also directed, were workmanlike efforts that resulted in poignant and pleasurable movies. Greyhound, however, is something altogether more inspired.

It would be easy to look at Greyhound as nothing more than a series of naval combat set pieces that are strung together with a simple script and a pulse-pounding score. But that would be to miss the point. Hanks’ seemingly sparse screenplay is, in fact, chock full of tiny character details. It is the very epitome of “show, don’t tell.”

He strips the script down to only the most necessary dialogue. Everything else is on the actors. Their expressions of fear when confronting an unseen enemy. Those glimmers of doubt we see in their eyes each and every time they look at their tenderfoot Captain. Can he get them through this? Does he know what he’s doing? It’s all right there on screen and absolutely none of it is spoken out loud.

The emotional beats in the movie are also rooted in character and reinforced by repetition. We see it whenever Krause gets a seaman’s name wrong. Or in this recurring interaction he has with the ship’s chef, Cleveland. We know exactly what he’s feeling when he asks for his slippers. Or as he kneels down before his bunk. Each and every one of these micro-performances pay-off in different ways as the film progresses. There is even a moment in which a single sneeze will have you holding your breath.

Tom Hanks plays Commander Ernest Krause in Greyhound.

There are two periods in history that Tom Hanks keeps returning to in his work: the early days of America’s efforts into space (Apollo 13, From the Earth to the Moon, Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D) and, of course, World War II (Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, The Pacific). All the historical fictions that he’s been a part of have gone a long way in getting the moviegoing public interested – dare I say, excited – about these periods in our past.

Greyhound isn’t a true story but it feels like one. There is a real historical weight to everything we see on screen. The attention to detail is staggering. From the way every order is announced and then repeated down the chain of command, to the almost real time battle sequences, this is a movie that manages to find drama by accurately reflecting reality.

While there are far more World War II movies than one can shake a stick at, I can only think of six others that are set during this period that historians refer to as the Battle of the Atlantic. (The Cruel Sea, The Enemy Below, San Demetrio London, Atlantic Convoy, Corvette K-225, and, of course, Das Boot.) I’m not really sure why more filmmakers haven’t ventured into this particular segment of history except maybe that movies of this sort are incredibly difficult to pull off.

To that end, Greyhound is a resounding success. It depicts the war at sea, and its consequences, in a way that feels genuine. It may not be the final word on war movies set on boats – that title still remains with Das Boot – but it makes a valiant effort and rightfully earns its place with the very best of them.

Apple TV+
91 minutes
Director: Aaron Schneider
Writer: Tom Hanks
Cast: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, and Elisabeth Shue

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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