Perseverance is the key to survival. We’re not just talking evolution here, but the willingness to push-back against any obstacles made by man or nature. In the case of the film Greyhound by director Aaron Schneider (Get Low), working from an adapted screenplay from Tom Hanks (The Post), this means Sony Pictures pushing their World War II action-drama from its original 2020 release date by making a deal with Apple so that Apple TV+ subscribers can view it on July 10th, 2020. Sony isn’t the first major distributor to move a film to VOD or shift distribution to a streaming service, and it’s the best form of practical adaptability in our modern pandemic era. Perseverance is also the key theme within Schenider’s Greyhound, a film which brings to life author C.S. Forester’s fictional novel The Good Shepherd. Hanks portrays first-time Naval Commander Ernest Krause manning the helm of a destroyer, nicknamed “Greyhound,” that’s leading 37 allied ships filled with supplies and men early into the United States’s involvement in World War II. Though fictional, Greyhound is no less harrowing as Schneider elects to keep perspective firmly on the newly minted captain, even as five German U-Boats begin to slowly attack the convoy, making the unknown as terrifying to the audience as it is for Commander Krause.
There are so many war films in cinema that finding a new way is almost necessary to draw an audience. A name like Hanks might gather attention, but how do you keep an audience engaged or invested. For instance, recent releases like 1917 (2019) utilize the illusion of a one-track shot for its entirety, while The Outpost (2020) evokes cinéma vérité to capture The Battle of Kamdesh. Each of these methods helped convey the terror of the unknown which faces any soldier in combat, that growing dread of never being fully aware from where threats may come. Rather than utilize the third-person presentation in Forester’s original novel, Hanks and Schenider opt to use three persistent forms of isolation to generate and maintain tension, making for an experience that’s almost continuously escalating throughout the entire 91-minute runtime. The methods are three-fold: a focus on Commander Krause narratively, staging the film within a small space on the ship, and the use of the isolation inherent in the ocean itself. These three overlapping methods compound the narrative tension until the audience finds it is holding its collective breath, unsure if safety will ever come back.
Let’s start outward and work our way in.
The film mainly takes place as the convoy travels a portion of the Atlantic Ocean given the nickname “The Black Pit,” where no air support travels. If something goes wrong with the machinery, only the convoy itself can manage the issue, which means that, from the jump, the only thing between the soldiers and death is the whim of nature. Add in five U-Boats which can travel virtually untraced underwater, one of which taunts Krause’s vessel from time to time, and the scenes become ripe with perpetual stress. Schenider does point the camera out to the sea, using helpful captions to identify which ally vessels are in view, but the camera never really leaves the Greyhound. By doing so, the audience is essentially as cut-off from information as Krause and his crew. The few times that the camera does leave Krause’s position, it’s to follow the flow of information whenever Krause makes a request from a sonar station or from Stephen Graham’s Charlie Cole, Krause’s second. Maintaining the camera on Krause and the crew within the bridge of the ship slowly elicits a sense of claustrophobia, especially as the time ticks on during the five days without support as attacks on various aspects of the convoy increase. Just when one crisis is averted or addressed, another arises to take its place, leaving the crew totally on edge and Krause pushed to his absolute limit. This, of course, brings us to Hanks as Krause. Via flashback after the start, the audience is informed that this is Krause first command and Hanks continually communicates a man questioning everything about the choiceless choices he must make during wartime. Hanks has proven time and again that he is a dependable performer, able to channel the internal struggles of a character as confidently as communicating via dialogue. It should not surprise anyone then that Hanks is well within his talents here, able to demonstrate the heaviness of each loss of life of his crew or the convoy equally, as well as the incredible relief when each trial is seemingly conquered. It’s such a quiet performance, often featuring notes of total desperation, that the audience can’t help but feel for him and wonder, as Krause seems to do himself, whether he’s in over his head as the maritime engagement with the U-Boats escalates. This is a key portion of the novel and one which translates well mostly due to Hanks, but also because Schenider allows for moments in which its clear that the crew is unsure of Krause’s decisions. But as each choice, each decision, seems to weigh so heavily on Krause, the crew and audience come around by the end.
Greyhound features a large ensemble cast, most of whom the audience doesn’t really get to know, but even the smallest parts make an impact. Like the radio messenger following Krause across the destroyer to help relay information, the electrician unable to get the 1940s sonar to properly function in the cold of winter, Graham’s confidante Charlie, Elisabeth Shue as Krause’s significant other, or the chef in the galley played by Rob Morgan (Just Mercy), who seems to be the only one looking after Krause. Hanks headlines, but there are plenty of smaller roles which make up the tapestry of Greyhound, each one contributing to the emotional stakes of this fictional crew within a very real war, a war that we seem to be fighting once more today.
Greyhound may not have released on the 109th anniversary of the formation of the United States Navy, but it is no less a celebration of the sailors who brave the seas to protect our nation. Surprisingly, Greyhound is not a nationalist film, but is a globalist one. Krause may be leading the convoy, serving as the main protection, but the convoy is made up of countries which include Canada and Britain. This convoy is a symbol of what happens when a great danger threatens the safety of the entire world. We band together to address the problem. When we feel weak or uncertain, as Krause so frequently does, others help fill in the gaps of our confidence or push a rally from the troops. It would be so easy to forget the contributions of other countries and merely focus on what the U.S. achieved during the war, a war we were late to engage in as we put America First. But when we put that notion aside, by remembering that we are stronger when working in concert with others, we can achieve the seemingly impossible. Within the scope of Greyhound, that means surviving a maritime engagement against an enemy whose advanced technology offers a greater advantage on an unforgiving battlefield.
Available for streaming via Apple TV+ on July 10, 2020.
Head to the official Greyhound website for more information.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.