Friday, January 22, 2021

Film Review: Greyhound


Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection

Tom Hanks has earned a lot of cache in the genre of World War II stories.  His iconic performance in Saving Private Ryan notwithstanding, he has also produced the series Band of Brothers and The Pacific.  Outside of film, he was a huge supporter of the World War II memorial in Washington DC.

This time Hanks returns to WWII with a script he wrote himself called Greyhound.  The title refers to the code name for the ship that he captains.  Hanks plays Captain Krause, who is given here his first command of an Allied convoy.  Battleships like his must protect cargo ships transporting, troops, fuel, supplies, weapons, and all manner of help for the war.  The problem is the German U-Boats.  The convoy is safe when they are within a certain distance from an Allied airbase where planes can bomb the subs out of the water.  But for several days during the crossing, the convoy is vulnerable at every moment.  The battle ships must keep constant watch for attack at any moment.  Any single bad choice could jeopardize the lives of everyone in the convoy.

Unlike Saving Private Ryan, this is not a movie that is a character study soldiers on the field of battle.  I would venture to say that most people would have a hard time remembering the names of any of the characters.  There are no big speeches about life back home or the inhumanities of war.  The sailors are too busy with fighting to talk about fighting.  While this is a bit of problem, Hanks and director Aaron Schneider compensate for it in two ways.

The first is that the movie is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.  Every moment is soaking with tension.  We do not have an omniscient view of all of the events happening.  We tend to be locked completely into Captain Krause's perspective.  We never see what the captains of the other boats are doing or feeling.  Like Krause, we have to discern how they are doing from brief flashes of communication.  The U-Boats are actually quite terrifying.  Like the shark in Jaws, they are a mostly unseen menace in the ocean that can pop up at any time to bring death.  How many U-Boats are following them?  Krause doesn't know, and neither do you.  You take the ride along with him as you white-knuckle your way through hoping to buy more time.

The second thing that helps is that the movie is utterly fascinating to watch.  Schneider throws us right into the thick of things.  When a U-Boat is spotted, we see the well-oiled machine of naval training kick in.  The navigator plots a course, measures time and speed, the captain assesses the field and tries to strategically uses his limited artillery to blast them out of the water.  I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen and even though I did not understand a great deal of what was being said, I felt like I was experiencing real life on a battle ship.  You are not only in Krause's position, but you also feel like a member of the crew when he makes a decision you think is wrong.  You have to trust the chain of command, but you are uneasy as your life is in the captain's fallible hands.

Hanks holds the movie together with the power of his charisma.  Like his performance in Cast Away, Hanks is able to draw you in with very little dialogue or action.  You cannot wait to see what he is going to do next, but he never goes over-the-top.

As a Catholic I absolutely loved the spirituality that is present in the movie.  Krause is a religious man, a man of prayer.  He begins his day on his knees before God.  He is humble and pious while being bold and courageous.  Hanks and Schneider treat Krause's spirituality with great dignity and respect.

Because it never tries to delve too deeply into the characters the way Saving Private Ryan does, Greyhound never quite achieves the heights of that film.  But if you want a fun, thrilling, and fascinating couple of hours, I would check this movie out.

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