GREYHOUND (2020)

Tom Hanks in a still from Greyhound
  • Release Date: 10/07/2020
  • Cast: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Elisabeth Shue
  • Director: Aaron Schneider

Tense, gripping, and exciting! Greyhound makes up with action and intrigue what it lacks in character development

There is something about Hollywood World War II films that always captures my imagination. Even the “not so good” ones. There are films like Dunkirk, Saving Private Ryan, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and The Longest Day that is just great and deserves a place alongside the best war films ever made. Then there are ones like Enemy At The Gates, The Inglorious Basterds, and Jo Jo Rabbit that are immersive, entertaining and exceptionally well made. Then there is a third kind of film that narrate an important, thrilling, and contained tale relying more on the story itself to entice the audience. These films often shun its doors on everything else associated with a cinematic retelling of an event leaving many (mostly critics) disgruntled. Greyhound falls into this category of Hollywood World War II films and I say this in the best possible sense.

Based upon the novel “The Good Shepherd” by C S Forester, Greyhound is the inspiring tale of Captain Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks), the leader of an Allied convoy crossing the North Atlantic in 1942. Krause’s command ship, USS Keeling (call sign: Greyhound) is a part of a protection screen defending the armada of ships carrying goods, equipment, and supplies across the Atlantic. It was common for such armadas to be attacked by German U-Boats that hunted in packs and aimed at sinking as many allied ships as possible. The idea was to cripple the transportation of supplies thereby destroying the supply line of the allied forces in the war.

Krause is on his maiden voyage across the Atlantic and is forced to fend off one of the most brutal and relentless attacks by a group of German U-Boats referred to here as the Wolf Pack. The story focuses on Krause’s command responsibility as he fights the cold, the relentless night, the brutal sea, and his deep fatigue as he chases down the attacking submarines in a deadly game of cat and mouse. There are moments when he feels that all is lost but he soon regains his composure and carries on with the task at hand. He questions his own judgment and decisions from time to time but in the end, it is his decisions and calculated assaults that stand between the armada and complete annihilation at the hands of the Nazi.

A Still from Greyhound

There are many critics who are ripping apart this film for its lack of character development. The critics also feel that the film essentially takes a piggyback ride on Tom Hanks’ charisma and star power to transfix audiences to his performance luring them away from asking basic questions about the character and its background that are completely ignored. My view on the matter is very different. Greyhound is just about 1 hour 30 minutes long. The film starts with a brief scene where we are introduced to a woman who Krause evidently plans to marry and are made privy to the information that he is finally getting the lead of a destroyer after serving as a career officer in the Navy for years. The story then shifts to the sea and within minutes we realize the enormity of the task that Krause has on his hands. In my opinion, there was neither any room for character development nor any need for it as the story isn’t about Krause the man but about his exploits in the seas over a specific period of time.

The director successfully builds up an eerie atmosphere using the visuals, the background score, and the performances. When Krause goes after the first U-Boat and destroys it, I was more concerned than ecstatic about it as there was a sense of tension associated with the entire sequence. I was expecting something terrible coming his way which ultimately did within a matter of scenes. Post the brief success, Krause and the Greyhound are hounded throughout the night by the German U-Boats as they are brutally assaulted. The U-Boats strike such panic among the armada that they are seen shooting at each other out of a sense of fear and misjudgment. One ship nearly runs into the Greyhound while another unleashes fire at one of the U-boats that find its way to the Greyhound leading to loss of life. All of this is wonderfully envisioned and executed by Aaron Schneider who presents us with a stark and thrilling image of the whole episode.

From here on, Greyhound is a barrage of one tense action set piece after another. The film takes just three breaks from these combat situations. What works in its favor is the fact that the action sequences are extremely well done, they incite excitement at what would happen next and most importantly they efficiently surprise us. A large chunk of the action takes place at night and yet the realization of these sequences is as such that we are on the same page with the crew of the Greyhound.

the U-Boat Grey Wolf from Greyhound

As was bound to be the case with a film of this nature, there aren’t too many characters to concentrate on except Krause, and that for me was a good thing. Luckily the leading man is Tom Hanks and he has enough charm and charisma to keep us transfixed to the character of Krause even if all the other supporting actors are there just because he cannot run a ship all by himself. The film relies on our knowledge and memory of the horrors that the German U-Boats unleashed on the allied ships to extract a lot of its tension and drama and that is something that was unavoidable in a film with a runtime of just about 90 minutes.

I neither missed the absence of compelling characters or the lack of character development as I was completely immersed in the action and the faithful recreation of how a destroyer commander commandeers his forces and how rudimentary communication technology was used in those ages to seek and destroy enemy submarines. Essentially, that is the crux of the film. Every time the allied ships bust up a U-Boat, it is a result of a lot of build-up and effort. The director makes it a point to present these moments with a lot of gusto, fanfare, and milks every ounce of heroism out of it. This serves the overall feel and inherent excitement of the film well.

I had a good time with Greyhound, and I believe that will be the case with most viewers who look at it as a well-made piece of unabashed entertainment. The film narrates an inspiring story that is aided by some innovative action and an ever-likable Tom Hanks. However, if you are looking for character development, interpersonal drama, and potent emotions, you need to look elsewhere.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

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