By John Hanlon
As the opening text in the new drama Greyhound notes, convoys of ships were used during World War 2 to move soldiers and supplies from our shores to the shores of Great Britain. Air cover wasn’t available for these convoys in the midst of the Atlantic so they often needed to be guided by light war ships, which could protect them from U-Boat attacks.
Left unprotected by air from one side of the Atlantic to the other, these war ships were used to escort the large convoys across the ocean.
The title of the new film Greyhound refers to the code name of one such war ship. In the feature, Greyhound leads an escort of war ships that attempt to protect a convoy of ships needed in the war effort.
Adapted from the novel The Good Shepherd, the drama tries to bring this historical fact to life. The ever-reliable Tom Hanks stars as Captain Krause, the resilient leader in charge of keeping the convoy safe. Hanks is well-known for playing commanding leaders (in films such as Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips and Apollo 13) and he fits in here naturally. There’s little time here to develop Krause’s character so it helps that Hanks has already established the gravitas needed to play such an unassuming leader.
In addition to starring here, Hanks also wrote the screenplay and he keeps the dialogue tight, understanding how valuable each moment is in this stressful environment. When U-boats attack his ship and threaten the convoy, there's an urgency to every syllable that's uttered onboard as the captain is forced to make critical decisions. There are several scenes here showing different military officials relaying messages and coordinates to each other and the value of each of these words could mean life or death and the captain recognizes that.
When a sailor responsible for conveying urgent information to the captain sneezes at a stressful time, undeniable tension fills the room as a sneeze at the wrong time could mean a mistake and a mistake could lead to more attacks from the enemy and a sunken ship.
Although there isn’t a lot of character development here, there is an undeniable appreciation here for how many battles play out over the course of a couple of days. The story occurs over the course of a multi-day period — as the convoy approaches the opposite side of the Atlantic — and the battles with U-Boats take place at various hours during that window. There isn’t just one battle between the Greyhound and the enemy. There are battles, strategic moves and positioning and then there are more attacks.
In between these attacks, the pace slows down as the characters pay tribute to some members who lost their lives. One scene, for instance, features a service showing members of the Greyhound saying goodbye to several of their fellow warriors. There are lives at stake in the mission and the feature reminds viewers of that.
Greyhound was originally expected to receive a theatrical release and the great aerial shots from director Aaron Schneider would undeniably work better on the big screen. However, the film isn’t only about the action and the feature works nicely as it attempts to capture the realities of such a mission.
From the captain who drinks coffee but refuses to eat during a tumultuous period to the injuries suffered during war (including one injury suffered from a brutal fall onto broken dishes), Greyhound isn't a traditional big-budget war movie. It's a grounded and honest one, more interested in mechanics and truthfulness than it is in telling a big over-the-top story.