The tale of a U.S. destroyer helping protect an Allied convoy from a swarming wolfpack of German U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic, Greyhound is so indifferently and indistinctly told that it might as well be called Tom Hanks World War II Project #4. Fronted and written by Hanks, the 91-minute film seeks to establish a mercenary pace. Instead, Hanks has adapted C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel The Good Shepherd in a way that reduces part of history’s longest, largest and most complex wartime water battles into a short, modest and simplified endeavor.
Filmed in 2018, bounced around Sony Pictures’ schedule ever since, and bumped once again from its theatrical summer spot after the COVID-19 pandemic, Greyhound has now been picked up by Apple TV+. It premieres there Friday as the nascent streaming service’s highest-profile feature film to date. Alas, it is the most sensible destiny for this narratively non-caloric rah-rah — the closest thing Hanks-as-superstar has ever made to a VOD castoff.
He plays Commander Ernest Krause, a lifelong Navy man tapped to captain the USS Greyhound shortly after America’s entry into the conflict. His mission is safeguarding supplies and soldiers en route to the United Kingdom for the Allied fight, aided and abetted by Canadian and British frigates who have made the run for years. The convoy mostly has air cover, but not as it crosses the “Black Pit” of the Atlantic, where multinational mariners must fend for themselves against Germany’s stealthy submarine fleet.
Excepting a clumsy flashback in which Elisabeth Shue thanklessly plays Krause’s lady, Greyhound sticks to Krause’s inaugural mission in early 1942. Krause’s fatigue, depression and self-doubt become focal points in Forester’s novel amid a frenzy of four U-boats attacking, sometimes in a simultaneous, indefensible swarm. Hanks has sanded those edges down into a profanity-hating, God-fearing machine powered by Jesus Christ, coffee, eggs, bacon and the occasional flapjack. Krause’s only flaw here is forgetting the names of his crew, which could be commentary on how war flattens individual lives, dreams and hopes into nameless and faceless nubs. Indeed, someone’s sneeze at a moment seconds count is about the only thing you’ll remember about any of the Greyhound crew, and you get a stronger, albeit more predictable, psychological profile of the predictably antagonistic Grey Wolf (Thomas Kretschmann in a disembodied-voice turn) when he taunts Krause. But the Commander’s absent-mindedness with names later feels monstrous when he misidentifies a Black messmate in a morbid misstep that either Hanks’ script, or maybe the editorial team, simply waves off without the gravity it deserves.
Indeed, Hanks restricts so much disinterested dialogue here to aye-aye affirmation of orders given and conversations about the conn that you expect real-life destroyer’s logs to also be credited as source material for his screenplay. And while 80 minutes of no-frills U-boat attacks, evasions and countermeasures sounds like an exciting proposition for a war film, director Aaron Schneider’s impersonal touch alternates between above-average visual effects (although some silhouettes of fire cast a bizarrely Polar Express-esque glow on the Greyhound crew) and shots of Hanks looking pained, gazing into binoculars and bellowing commands like “LEFT HARD RUDDERRRRR!” while composer Blake Neely’s Zimmerian pastiche BWONNNNNS on the soundtrack. There are modest thrills when Krause’s Canadian counterparts chip in on a collaborative defense and in the Greyhound’s climactic clash with the Grey Wolf. But otherwise, Greyhound represents Hanks’ most homogenized hosanna to World War II heroism yet.