Greyhound is a Streamlined and Sturdy WWII Thriller
There’s something about World War II that filmmakers must feel demands movies with lengths mirroring the scope of the war itself — looking back at the major releases concerning the subject since the double whammy of The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan in 1998, a scant few have dipped below the two-hour mark, with many more pushing two and a half or even three hours. Runtime does not, of course, correlate with quality, and many of these films more than earn their keep in that department; that being said, the fact that Greyhound — the latest entry in this particular subgenre — runs barely 80 minutes before the credits start rolling makes for a refreshing change of pace and tips the scales in its favor considerably.
I know it might sound odd to begin a review by lauding a film's length — such a tactic likely has the whiff of damning with faint praise — but the relative swiftness is critical to Greyhound’s success. Exposition is dispensed with fairly quickly; we understand within the first few minutes that Tom Hanks’ Commander Krause is a career naval officer whose first command comes during the wartime escort mission covered by the film. As his destroyer (codenamed Greyhound) makes its way across the Atlantic with a convoy of supply and troop ships in tow, Krause must lead his crew in fending off a merciless group of German U-boats despite his personal doubts about his abilities as a commander.
Working from a screenplay written by Hanks and adapted from C. S. Forester’s 1955 novel The Good Shepherd, the film is about as streamlined as you can get: ships are identified via onscreen captioning instead of explanatory dialogue, jargon goes mostly unexplained, and the focus character-wise remains squarely on Krause, with supporting players Stephen Graham, Elisabeth Shue, and Rob Morgan (the latter two vastly underutilized) the only other truly familiar faces amongst the cast. The film’s emotional weight is almost entirely dependent on Hanks, who skillfully wields the everyman persona he’s honed over the past decade in works such as Captain Phillips, Bridge of Spies, and Sully to portray an officer who knows that he’s fallible and that it will take all he has to make it through this ordeal.
By relying heavily on Hanks to convey internal conflict naturally throughout the course of the narrative, director Aaron Schneider (in his first film since winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature for 2009’s Get Low) is free to devote the bulk of the film to the external conflict facing Greyhound’s crew. Though the look of the film is at times a bit too pristine, preventing us from fully buying into the period setting, the naval action is satisfyingly shot and edited, mixing chaos with clarity and — aided by Blake Neely’s score — steadily building tension as day turns to night and back again.
Given the relative strength of the film’s visual stylings — especially as a mid-budget war movie — it’s a shame Greyhound had to abandon its theatrical plans, opting to debut on Apple TV+ instead. But even at home there’s much to appreciate about a rapidly paced, cleanly shot film with themes that stand out as a little more thoughtful than your average war picture: successful military leaders aren’t always brilliant strategists or ironfisted dictators — more often they're merely men and women doing their best, knowing that with a little bit of luck, that might just be enough.