Written by: Tom Hanks
Starring: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, Elisabeth Shue, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
Leading a military operation requires so many moving pieces but in the end, most of the decisions come down to one individual who makes the executive choices that can impact a ship full of soldiers. This pressure can mount, especially as things get direr as seen in the scintillating Greyhound. A story about survival told through a strictly singular experience in an effective manner.
Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) leads the USS Keeling, codenamed Greyhound, which serves as a vessel to deliver supplies across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States to England. As part of a large fleet, their biggest adversaries are German U-boats who patrol the waters and love taking down big ships. With this latest delivery, Ernest must help the ship survive as an onslaught begins to threaten them.
Very basic with its plot structure without much character work done, Greyhound has the mission of displaying what it’s like to be on these ships during these tumultuous times and the struggle of these German U-boats. None of the characters really receive any sort of depth except for Ernest, who has a flashback to a lady he has waiting for him when World War II comes to an end, but that barely counts. Most of the story takes place on this ship and with the film’s laser focus, it creates a tension-packed sea battle loaded with entertainment value.
With these soldiers being on the ship, a necessary adversary needs to come forward to give the type of dread to make the audience scared for these men. This arrives with the deadly German U-boats. Greyhound does a great job showing the dangers these submersive vessels pose to these larger ships. They can go underwater and reach the surface with the ability to shoot torpedoes with the power to take down tankers and warships. Their relatively small size makes it difficult for even the best marksmen on the turrets to land a direct hit. These U-boats have incredible success in taking down the other ships in the fleet, which only further raises the tension that the Greyhound will be next.
With most of the dialogue consisting of military commands, this film does plenty of communication through the looks of concern and despair these soldiers display on their faces. When hope seems to be waning, the commands they get from Ernest come with more hesitation, because they may be unsure of the effectiveness. Not following commands breaks the tradition of being in the armed forces. They never disobey but the uncertainty begins to creep in when their attempts continually fail when taking down these enemy boats. Additionally, it shows the collaborative effort of running a ship like the Greyhound. Each part contributes to the overall function and effectiveness with someone looking at the radar to communicate information to another person, who communicates it to Ernest. Playing the game of telephone badly in this situation can cause the demise of everyone on board, which means every soldier needs to be on high alert at all times thus continually elevating the tension of the story.
Visually, the film looks decently well-made with the battle scenes looking appropriately well-crafted. Certain instances really make it hard to believe they’re actually on the water due to the shoddiness of how it’s shot but overall it looks clear enough to show everything going on. The environment certainly becomes integral because these battles take place on the open sea and creating a treacherous terrain for these soldiers becomes integral to showing they are either surviving or going down with the ship.
Tom Hanks stars and wrote the script for this feature and he did well in both arenas. As a writer, he does not offer much characterization but it shows he did his research on what it takes to operate a vessel of this stature but also displays the weight leadership has on a man. Throughout the feature, Ernest gets brought food on several occasions, which he continually gives to others because he simply cannot eat. With making the decisions necessary for survival, eating food probably becomes repulsive, especially when the meals he receives probably have more quality than what his subordinates get put on their plates. He cannot sleep or eat because they’re sailing for their lives and any mistakes he makes leading this crew could leave many families without servicemen coming home.
Surprisingly short for a war film, but just as entertaining, Greyhound can be an enjoyable feature for everyone, but it could especially be labeled as a “dad film” because of the type of storytelling it utilizes. It gets right into business in the story without much fat on the outside, which makes for a brief and effective experience. Would it have been better with a bit more depth? Yes, but it does just fine with what it provides.