Greyhound opens with a lovely little flashback scene. Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) meets Evelyn Frechette (Elisabeth Shue) in a 1941 hotel lobby where they exchange hotel presents, and Krause invites Frechette (”Evie” he calls her) to join him on the open seas now that he’s being deployed as a naval officer in the wake of Pearl Harbor. The exact logistics of this proposed arrangement aren’t very clear to me — it seems implausible that she would be on the actual boat with him. But what Hanks and Shue do with about three minutes of screentime is incredible. They tell an entire miniature love story with their eyes and gestures and latent sadness. Two middle aged adults in the midst of global shake-up, simultaneously wondering if they lost their chance at love and holding out hope for a better world and happy ending.
Then some boats shoot each other for 80 minutes!
It’s probably not a good sign that I was more interested in the stakes-setting intro than the rest of the movie, or maybe it just means that I haven’t fully evolved into the kind of father who embraces a no-holds-barred Dad Movie like this. But, whatever the case, my gaze upon this film was steely and disinterested, despite the considerable craft within.
The bulk of the movie’s story traces a convoy of Allied ships across the Atlantic into dark, spooky waters where German U-boats can pop up at any time and sink friendly boats. Do you, intrepid reader, have any predictions as to whether Tom Hanks will get lucky in his travels this one time, or perhaps something will go afoul?
After his boat, with a callsign of “Greyhound,” spots some German subs, and sinks one, Krause’s crew wastes almost all of their munitions on a decoy signal, leaving them to fend off a “wolfpack” of U-boats until they get back safely into Allied waters. There are a series of minor victories each subsequently followed by another exchange of fire with the evil boats, until at last the requisite 85 minutes are complete and Hanks can lie down for a well-deserved nap.
Despite my flippancy, Greyhound has pretty terrific production values. The battle scenes represent far and away the most advanced naval combat I’ve ever seen on film, though I don’t think it should be a surprise based on what I’ve written so far that this is not a genre of film I frequently seek out. The sound in particular is daunting, a good reminder that violence is loud. (Greyhound’s lone Oscar nod was for sound design.) It’s impressive how well director Aaron Schneider captures the spatial logistics of the various ships. The action is always easy to comprehend even if you don’t know much about torpedoes and whatnot.
If you scroll through Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see lots of words like “solid” and “sturdy” and “taught” and “craftsmanship.” These indicate, correctly, a competent film. Competence is by no means a low bar to clear, but is it really what we aspire to see when the lights dim and we’re transported to a different world? “Man, that film was really serviceable!”
There’s a cold lack of humanity, let alone character, in Greyhound: ships are reduced to callsigns, dots on a map, statistics. For World War 2 geeks, I am sure this will be compelling. And there’s no doubt that Hanks is the perfect type of guy to cast as a burdened, dignified, quietly strong everyman hero. See: Captain Phillips or Sully or Captain Miller from Saving Private Ryan.
But I kept thinking back to our three minutes with Elisabeth Shue in a hotel lobby and wishing I was watching that movie instead.
- Review Series: Tom Hanks Retrospective