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<em>Greyhound</em> is almost A1 cinema

(Niko Tavernise/Sony Pictures)

Movie

Greyhound is almost A1 cinema

Film about the Battle of the Atlantic has good elements but needs more to get past middling

It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. And the pandemic that exploded Hollywood’s traditional release model has acted as jet fuel to the expansion plans of streaming outlets. Case in point: Greyhound

Based on the 1955 C.S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd, the World War II, inspired-by-true-events drama is about as prestige as it gets. Its writer and star is arguably the most A-list performer of our time, Tom Hanks. He plays United States Navy Cmdr. Ernest Krause. He and his crew must provide escort to a convoy of Allied ships bringing troops and supplies across an area of the Atlantic known as the “Black Pit,” due to it being out of range of air cover. No surprise, Greyhound was originally scheduled to hit theaters on Father’s Day weekend—perfect timing to capitalize on summer crowds in the market for a dad-pleasing option.

When COVID-19 nixed that plan, many industry insiders expected Sony to shelve the film until fall. Instead, the studio partnered with Apple TV+ to release it on July 10 in a move entertainment news site Deadline described as “a real shocker.” Apple’s $70 million purchase marked the company’s biggest feature film commitment so far and could signal a turning point in the war for entertainment dominance. It could also signal that the streaming platform intends to make its mark by going less gritty than competitors Netflix and Amazon. 

The thrilling action sequences and patriotic themes make it a shame other elements of the film don’t hold up as well.

As the USS Keeling, better known by call sign “Greyhound,” begins the hazardous trek toward Great Britain, Krause, who’s never commanded before, finds his tactical skill tested to the breaking point. 

Often when studios promote films to Christian press as having a “faith element,” it means a character mentions a Bible or maybe wears a cross around his neck. Not so with Greyhound. Krause is no blink-and-you’ll-miss-it believer. In various situations he prays for wisdom to execute his mission, thanks God for preserving his life, and prods the men under him to remember casualties as “souls.” 

More specifically, as he squints into the distant sea weighing how best to thwart Nazi U-boats known as “the wolfpack,” he counsels himself with Matthew 10:16: Be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. The film is rated PG-13 for war violence and language, but quick asides of, “Sorry Captain,” whenever the crew let slip a profanity make it clear Krause doesn’t approve, no matter the provocation.

Sony Pictures

(Sony Pictures)

The thrilling action sequences and patriotic themes make it a shame other elements of the film don’t hold up as well. Most movies suffer from being overstuffed, but Greyhound feels like it could have used a bit more. At a brief 91 minutes, Hanks and his team could have taken another half hour to add deeper layers to the characters. Krause is the only figure we feel much for, and even he is thinly drawn. We know he’s a committed Christian and that he hopes to survive to marry his sweetheart, Eva. But beyond that he’s a bit of a blank slate.

Are Krause and Eva widowers, divorcés? Did they meet in youth and lose touch? Why aren’t these two middle-aged people married already? The Wikipedia entry on Forester’s novel says Krause “broods over his career; his wife left him partly because of his strict devotion to duty.” It’s a pity almost none of that intriguing detail makes it on the screen.

While it may not meet the level of the best war films, Greyhound is a decent entry into the genre and a hopeful sign of the direction Apple TV may be taking its brand.