Friday, July 10, 2020

Greyhound: Tom Hanks Adapts C.S. Forester

The U.S. Merchant Marine suffered a higher fatality rate than any other American service branch during World War II. German U-boats were the primary reason. They were always deadly, but especially so when hunting American cargo and troop ships in the so-called “Black Pit,” the central Atlantic waters Allied air support could not reach. A veteran Naval officer with no prior combat experience must protect a large convoy during its perilous transatlantic passage in Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound, adapted from C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd by its star and screenwriter, Tom Hanks, which premieres today on Apple TV.

Although he is a career officer, Capt. Ernest Krause’s first command is the destroyer USS Keeling—call sign: “Greyhound.” The newly promoted captain is keenly aware several of his junior officers and able-bodied seamen are far-more battle-tested than he is. However, he takes strength from his Christian faith and his love for Evelyn, who would be his fiancĂ©e, if times were peaceful.

As soon as the convoy enters the Black Spot, a German U-boat is detected on sonar. Greyhound is sent on a detour to hunt it down, in what will be the first test of Krause’s leadership. Unfortunately, the detour will also deplete Greyhound’s depth charges and fuel. Racing to catch up with the convoy, the Keeling is forced to spearhead the rear-defense when a full “wolfpack” of U-boats suddenly attacks.

It is a shame Sony canceled Greyhound’s theatrical release in response to the CCP-virus and sold it to Apple, because it is a lean, tense war film that still deserves to be seen on a big screen. As a screenwriter, Hanks distills the narrative down to its elemental essence, jettisoning any dead weight melodrama, while retaining a nuts-and-bolts realism. Greyhound could almost serve as a training film for destroyer crews, if the stakes were not so dire.

Granted, we do not really get to know the personality quirks of the crew, but Capt. Krause is not on-board to make friends. He is there to keep them alive and protect the convoy. There is an obvious kinship between Capt. Krause and other celebrated Hanks characters, such as Captain Phillips and most conspicuously Capt. John Miller from Saving Private Ryan. Yet, Krause is particularly compelling, probably for precisely the reasons some snobby critics are rather lukewarm on the film. Hanks never gives himself any flashy Oscar-reel dialogue, but what he shows is the depth of Krause’s Christian belief—it is a faith that manifests itself in humility—something we rarely see in film or society during these hyper-cynical times.

Hanks is quietly powerful as Krause—it really might be some of his best work yet, even though it comes in a combat-driven film. Most of the rest of the ensemble are good soldiers playing good sailors. However, Stephen Graham is memorably salty and flinty as Krause’s first officer, Charlie Cole. Elizabeth Shue only appears briefly in an early flashback as Evelyn, but it is a rather poignant scene, in which she and Hanks express much, while speaking rather little.

Of course, for real-life veterans and military experts, the greatest strength of Greyhound is its authenticity. Shot aboard a currently commissioned Royal Canadian frigate, Schneider conveys a dramatic sense of the close-quarters and the near-blind confusion of nautical warfare. The terminology sounds accurate and the gun-metal-grey color palate is as legit as it gets. Viewers will understand the tactics and strategy, as they unfold, while Schneider clearly establishes the spatial relationships between destroyer and U-boats—at least when it is known to the Greyhound crew. This is a radical departure from his last feature, Get Low, but he does a truly impressive job marshalling the warships, aircrafts, and explosive effects, while still getting the best out of his leading man.

Krause is the sort of American veteran who made the “Greatest Generation” the greatest. The same is true for all the Merchant Marines that he fights so hard to protect, so we should remember them all. Greyhound is definitely a fitting tribute. Tight and suspenseful, it is the best WWII combat-focused film since Hacksaw Ridge. Very highly recommended, Greyhound premieres today (7/10), on Apple TV.