My dad and my brother and my sister-in-law came over yesterday to celebrate the boy’s birthday– he doesn’t get a party with his friends, unfortunately, because 2020– and toward the end of the evening my brother kind of randomly noticed that Greyhound was available through the Apple TV+ subscription I got the last time I upgraded my phone. I had never heard of it and initially scoffed at the idea of watching Yet Another Tom Hanks Movie, but I either got overruled or didn’t fight the idea too hard, take your pick– and, well, the short version is that you now have another reason to have an Apple TV+ subscription beyond basking in the crazy that is See. Which, for the record, we eventually finished, and I recommend on every level except the story, which never gets less dumb. If you can buy the basic premise, you should check it out.
But this piece is about Greyhound. The premise is refreshingly simple: it is 1942, not long after the United States entered World War II, and Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Naval Commander Ernest Krause. Krause commands a destroyer that, along with another four combat-capable ships, is escorting a convoy of troop carrier, supply and merchant ships across the Atlantic to England. It is Krause’s first such command.
The problem with that trip was the period of time– about three or four days– where the convoy is out of range of Allied air cover, being too far from both North America and England for planes to be able to make a round trip. This made convoys like this, if not easy prey for German U-Boats, at least a lot easier. And the Greyhound’s convoy catches more grief than most, first sinking a single U-Boat and then encountering a Wolfpack of six of them. The convoy takes multiple losses over the course of the film’s surprisingly terse and compact 90 minutes, and Krause neither sleeps nor eats at any point during the film– in fact, the movie makes a point of repeated attempts by the mess crew to get him to eat something, all of which are interrupted.
If you’re into World War II films, you could do an awful lot worse than this movie, and honestly for my money it’s better than Saving Private Ryan in every way except for the action scenes– this movie clearly didn’t have a Spielberg-level budget. The action’s not bad by any means, but the interesting thing about a movie entirely about fighting submarines is that so much of the threat is imaginary. There’s something lurking out there, trying to kill you, and these guys are literally trying to track submarines by listening real hard and keeping track of where they are and where they think the Germans are by using grease pens on glass. I know little about naval warfare and can’t really vouch for accuracy, but it feels right, for lack of a better word.
The simple fact is, in the hands of a lesser director or a lesser actor this movie could have been a serious mess. The movie only leaves Hanks’ perspective for very brief scenes, occasionally cutting to the sonar operator or a couple of other characters, but never for more than a minute or two, and we never see a single German soldier or have a single scene shot inside a U-Boat, although we do get to hear the German commander taunting the Greyhound over the radio a couple of times. Even Hanks’ dialogue is largely incomprehensible beyond pure function— I mean, I can imagine what “Full rudder right!” means, but I don’t know, and that’s the most comprehensible of his orders. I would say easily 75% of his dialogue is either barking orders or reacting to positional data relayed to him from sonar or radar. I feel like it shouldn’t work, but it does.
This probably isn’t worth actually picking up an Apple TV+ subscription for– but if you’re one of the people who, like me, upgraded your iPhone and got a free year of the service, definitely set aside an hour and a half on a Saturday night and give it a look. It’s suspenseful, well-directed, powerfully acted, and generally a solid and well-crafted piece of filmmaking. Give it a shot.