Greyhound (2020) Review
A WWII NAVAL THRILLER
THAT’S PROPELLED BY ACTION
Over the past several decades, both Hollywood and moviegoers alike have intrigued and fascinated with WWII theatrical features; transporting viewers through a cinematic lens to the war-torn times of the Second World War on all various aspects of the human condition and of the hardships on the battlefield. Telling tales of war, strife, and the face of overwhelming odds to an oppositional enemy has been sort of the “bread and butter” to these narratives, with most being presented in military action pieces as well as moving dramatic stories. The theater of war can focus on a variety of avenues to choose from (on both the Europe and Pacific setting), including the Holocaust genocide such as Life is Beautiful, Schindler’s List, The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Zookeeper’s Wife as well as the more militaristic action based wartime endeavors like Midway, Patton, Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge, and Dunkirk just to name a few. Now, Sony Pictures (as well as Apple+ TV) and director Aaron Schneider present the latest offering to from Tinseltown’s cinematic tales with the movie Greyhound; based on the novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester. Does this film swim to cinematic victory in amongst other titular WWII movies or is it “abandon ship” for this navy drama?
In 1942, Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) has been called into duty, sent to the North Atlantic Ocean to take control of the USS Keeling (aka Greyhound), a navy destroyer on a mission to protect a convoy of supply ships from Allied forces. With this mission being his first assignment as a commanding officer, Krause tries to keep himself focus and true, with bible prayers / studies and thoughts of his girlfriend, Evelyn (Elizabeth Shue), who refused his marriage proposal, saving such martial plans until after the war ends. Keeping tabs and contacts on numerous ships in the cold sea around them, Krause and his mean, including Lt. Charlie Cole (Stephen Graham), are soon targeted by a “wolfpack” of German U-boats that have silently encroached upon them, working to secretly take out ships within Greyhound’s convoy. Employing his fresh training and leadership, Krause takes on the enemy with extreme patience and measure, using sonar equipment to track and evade the Nazis, with this “cat and mouse” game stretching out for days as Greyhound enters the “Black Pit”, an area in the Atlantic Ocean where there is no air support coverage to help protect crossing vessels.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
One would think that Hollywood would’ve exhausted the idea of tackling WWII movies, especially since various studio companies have produced a plethora of theatrical features throughout the decades. However, new details of events begin to emerge from history and offer up some new “cinematic light” to be shine on such poignant moments in the Second World War. Of course, WWII showcases plenty of different facets on either the European side of the war or the Pacific as well as depicting both its soldiers (on either land, sea, or air) and even the civilian casualties caught in the middle. Personally, I’ve always liked wartime movies for both its dramatic moments as well as its military action that is presented. Naturally, Hollywood is quite keen on displaying these two facets quite admirably throughout their cinematic tales, with many still cultivating a certain type of balance in both storytelling and historical references accuracy. I definitely could go on and on about this subject and which WWII themed movies that I like (i.e. Hacksaw Ridge, Dunkirk, Saving Private Ryan, etc.), but then this review post would be far too long. Suffice to say…. there are still plenty of opportunities and avenues for Hollywood to continue to investing their theatrical endeavors into the heated battles of WWII.
This brings me back to talking about Greyhound, a 2020 an action film that sets out on the Atlantic high seas during the Second World War. Despite myself personally liking a lot of military wartime movies, this particular movie sort of went “under the radar” as much of the movie newsfeed / websites that I frequently visited didn’t say much about the project when it was first announced. I think the only thing I heard was that actor Tom Hanks was going to be attached to a WWII film. However, I was definitely interested in seeing the movie after I saw the film’s movie trailer, which had a great sense of military action and suspense presented throughout its preview. Because of this, the film Greyhound was definitely on my radar and was looking forward to seeing the movie when it was set to be released on June 12th, 2020 (the project was pushed back several time beforehand), which was going to be on Father’s Day weekend in the US. However, due to the events of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sony Pictures decided to sell Greyhound off instead of delaying the film for its theatrical release; opting to present the feature on Apple+ TV on and set to be released on there on July 10th, 2020. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Apple+ TV, so I had a friend let me borrow his, so I could check the movie out. A reason why my review for the movie is a bit late than most. So….what did I think of it? Well, I have kind of bit of mixed feelings about the film. Granted, I did enjoy the movie, but I felt that Greyhound, despite having some great navy actions scenes that will surely entertain fans of military WWII action flicks, has a limited scope and narration faults hold the film back. That’s not to say the movie is boring (by no means), but it just simply fails to execute a strong WWII military drama in its unbalanced nature of cinematic action and character development.
Greyhound is directed by Aaron Schneider, whose previously directorial works includes such projects like the short film Two Soldiers and the feature film Get Low. While Schneider’s directorial background isn’t the largest, he certainly makes up for it in various other filmmaking areas such as Camera and Electrical Department, Cinematography, and Editor. Thus, Schneider approaches Greyhound in a sense of big time blockbuster summer tentpole releases and the film feel more like a grand spectacle than a low key endeavor. This, of course, makes the film have more bombastic feeling with plenty of action scenes and sequences that are scattered throughout the film. Schneider keeps the film grounded in realism; showcasing the frantic nature of the “battle” tactics and stratagems throughout the picture and allowing us (the viewers) to see the close quarters of the ships interiors and quick made decisions effectively of its main roster. Plus, the movie is kept at a very short runtime, which makes the camera lens focused on the “here and now” and doesn’t get entangled into superfluous side stories and plot points. However, this tactic is a bit of a “double edge sword” variety (more on that below). Suffice to say that Schneider makes Greyhound his most ambitious project to date and it clearly shows.
On its presentation, Greyhound certainly has that “look and feel” of a blockbuster feature and makes usage of that particular tentpole to capitalize on its visual aesthetics throughout. With the effects of the global pandemic of COVID-19, there haven’t been many blockbuster-ish films released during this particular time in 2020 and Greyhound offers up a solution to that problem by generating a great visual aspect that takes the big-screen epic scope that the story depicts and translate that for a military navy action piece that works. Of course, a large chunk of Greyhound was actually shot on a pair of real-life vessels (after doing some research I found out that it was the USS Kidd and HMCS Montreal), which lends some authenticity credence to the feature and offering up some realism into the feature’s set-pieces and historical accuracy. Of course, the action sequences (as mention above) is a big selling point for the feature and with the efforts made by Schneider and cinematographer Shelly Johnson for creating equally effective and tight action sequences throughout the feature in way that’s quite suspenseful and entertaining. Plus, the movie’s varying paint pallets of blustery chills of grey, black, and blue offers up the stark harshness that swirls all around the Greyhound and the other ships in the Atlantic. Adding this presentation is the film’s score, which was composed by Blake Neely, that delivers a rousing and riveting score that certainly heightens a lot of the more action-packed moments and builds tension and suspense when needed.
Unfortunately, Greyhound, despite its action-oriented premise and suspenseful moments, lacks the proper context to create a well-rounded military WWII drama that it so desperately wants to be. How so? Well, the main culprit that many viewers out there will automatically surmise when watching this movie is in its narrative, which is quite simplistic in nature and lacks a greater sense of bulk substance to strengthen the feature’s tale. In a nutshell, the movie strips away a lot of side stories or narrative context to make for a “in the moment” structure for the feature to follow; focusing heavily upon the idea of what is currently going on rather than fleshing out various pieces of backstory / flashback. Of course, this method of storytelling has been done before in other wartime endeavors such as Dunkirk and 1917, with more focus on the “here and now” story and less focus on character development. However, while both those movies were able to achieve heightened cinematic experiences (Dunkirk with its three different storylines structure and 1917 with its “one shot” presentation), Greyhound doesn’t offer much in this area of heightened cinematic; opting for a more straightforward narrative that’s rather simple and kept to the bare minimum. This, of course, makes the film’s suspenseful / tension moment quite invigorating and gets immediately into the thick of feature’s navy action (as mention above), but everything else is kept to barebones examination; rendering most (if not all) of the film’s various characters and even a few minor subplots points moot and thinly sketched.
Because of this, a lot of Greyhound’s emotional beats and dramatic poise moments end up being quite hollow and less impactful than what was originally intended. So….who is to blame? Well, it’s combination of Schneider’s overall direction for the project as well as the film’s script, which was penned by Tom Hanks himself. While its quite admirable for Hanks to do the feature’s screenplay, its quite clear that it isn’t as sharp nor as well-rounded as it could’ve been, with its simplistic storyline and underdeveloped characters being quite pronounced throughout the film’s runtime. Make myself wonder what Forrester’s original story had to say for all these respective characters in fleshing out all them. Additionally, the film’s script is quite heavy-handed when it comes to discussing a lot of the military naval terminology jargon. I definitely can understand why this idea was utilized in the movie, which lends a certain credibility / authenticity to the feature’s historical references of navy tactics and commanding that were implanted during WWII. However, when majority of the dialogue is crammed with hurried / frantic shouts and screams of orders and naval jargon, it begins to lose its meaning and becomes a bit tedious to the average viewer. Lastly, while I do praise the film’s presentation for making usage of its set-pieces, there are a few times where the feature’s CGI effects begin to show the film’s limited budget; rendering the vastness of the Atlantic’s infamous “Black Pit” terrain a bit off, especially when most of it is shrouded in blacks and grey.
The cast in Greyhound is simply far too many with very little development beyond their initial setup. Much like what I said above, it’s the characters themselves (what was written) and the film’s direction by Schneider hand is what makes them rather bland and underwhelming and not so much on the acting talents involved. Spearheading the cast and holding a lot of the feature’s heavy-lifting (in terms of screen presence is seasoned actor Tom Hanks as the movie’s main protagonist character Ernest Krause, commanding office of the USS Keeling (aka Greyhound). Known for his roles in Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, And A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Hanks has been commended by many, including myself, to being a very fine seasoned veteran actor in today’s current Hollywood landscape and always does a great job in whatever role he plays…..regardless if the movie he’s in can range from universal acclaim to mediocrely adequate. Such case in Greyhound as Hanks does a commendable job in the role and delivers a strong on-screen presence as Ernest Krause and certainly carries the majority of the cast (as well as the film itself) on his shoulders. In this regard, Hanks succeeds and definitely whenever he’s on-screen. The downside, however, is that there is barely any character development for him and the role of Krause is only bolstered by Hanks’s theatrical weight / presence. Barring one or two scenes in the movie, neither the film’s direction nor the screenplay handling delves into Krause; resulting in a main protagonist character that comes up emptyhanded in terms of us (the viewers) knowing who he is. Thus, despite Hanks’s performance, the character of Ernest Krause is rather bland and underwhelming; relying too heavily “in the moment” commander clichés and past military leadership tropes callbacks from other films.
In the supporting roles category, the only two characters I felt that stood out were Krause’s executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Charlie Cole, and Mess Attendant 2nd Class, George Cleveland, who are played by actors Stephen Graham (Boardwalk Empire and The Irishman) and Rob Morgan (The Photograph and Just Mercy). The reason why these two particular characters stand out (at least in my opinion) is because of the acting talents behind (both Graham and Morgan) have strong enough screen presence to make their respective characters elevate them beyond their thinly sketched character molds.
Everyone else, however, just sort of blends into the background with very little to no character development beyond being “cogs in the narrative” throughout the feature. This includes actor Matt Helm (The Kitchen and In the Breakroom) as Lieutenant J. Edgar Nystrom, actor Tom Brittney (Grantchester and Make Me Famous) as Lieutenant Watson, actor Michael Benz (Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Wife) as Lieutenant Carling, actor Jimi Stanton (The Punisher and Marty’s Shadow) as Lieutenant Harbutt, actor Jake Ventimiglia (Blue Bloods and The Deuce) as Harry Flipper, actor Karl Glusman (Gypsy and The Neon Demon) as Red Epstein, actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven and Sicario: Day of the Soldado) as Melvin Lopez, and actors Dominic Keating (Heroes and Star Trek: Enterprise), Maximillian Osinski (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Hollywood Hitmen), Ian James Collett (Beast Wars: Transformers and Dragon Ball Z), and Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong and Valkyrie) as the voices (via radio) for the commanders of the ships / subs for Harry, Eagle, Dicky, and Grey Wolf respectfully. What’s not in question of these individuals is not their acting talents, which are solid across the board, but their otherwise involvement in the film; delegated to being merely “window dressing” and hardly give any type of character development nor any type of assemblage of memorable moments. Even actress Elizabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas and The Saint) has little to do in the movie as Krause’s love interest, Evelyn Frechette. Shue is definitely talented, but feels quite undercooked and almost shoehorned into the movie, with little impact on a few moments of Krause’s flashbacks. Beyond that, the character of Evelyn is reduced to a somewhat cameo-like appearance as a feigned love interest.
Entering the “Black Pit” of the Atlantic Ocean, newly minted navy commander Ernest Krause leads his men and his convoy of ships to safety, while pursuing / evading encroaching U-Boat enemies in the movie Greyhound. Director Aaron Schneider’s latest film takes viewers on a close quarter military action drama that’s filled with tense moments and hard-hitting “caught in the moment” type nuances of visual action scenes. While the movie does seriously lack in character development and narrative prose and sometimes gets lost within its own pacing / naval jargon talk, the film still manages a adequate cinematic affair within its simplistic streamlined premise and suspenseful action moments to make any fan of military action junkie thrilled to see. Plus, despite his character’s limitations, Hanks did pull off the role admirably. Personally, this movie has me spilt. While I do appreciate the approach to the material and was engaging in its action scenes, the movie kind of comes up short in several crucial areas. So, it’s kind of a “love hate” type of thing. Still, I will say that I was pleased with it…. for most part….and I kind of wished that this movie was released in theaters for a “cinematic experience” to see. That being said, I can see why some people might agree / disagree about this particular film, which is why I would give Greyhound an “iffy choice”. In the end, while it won’t redefine Hollywood’s appeal of cinematic WWII presentations, Greyhound still has enough merits (faults and all) to watch a glance at this harrowing journey and some decent navy actions sequences.
3.5 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: July 10th, 2020
Reviewed On: August 29th, 2020
Greyhound is 91 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for war-related action / violence and brief strong language