Greyhound is a totally Tom Hanks war movie [Apple TV+ review]

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Greyhound review Apple TV+: Tom Hanks World War II movie: Tom Hanks wrote this nuts-and-bolts movie about naval warfare.
Tom Hanks wrote this nuts-and-bolts movie about naval warfare.
Photo: Apple TV+

Tom Hanks is here to rescue a cargo convoy from the Nazis — and presumably you from your free time. His new movie, Greyhound, is being released straight to Apple TV+ this Friday after COVID-19 scuttled the film’s theatrical release. This means there’s nothing between you and some old-school, flag-waving thrills.

In fact, Greyhound is the very definition of old school. There’s no fuss, no muss: just a man, his crew and some German U-boats hiding out in the gray fog of World War II, ready to pounce on American soldiers.

Greyhound review

Tom Hanks the writer/director is perhaps even a little more predictable than Tom Hanks the actor. Where Hanks the actor will occasionally throw a curveball to his audience by appearing in oddball fare like 2012’s Cloud Atlas or 2016’s A Hologram for the King, Hanks the creator likes only a couple of things. He likes crowd-pleasing romances and he likes specific pieces of foundational history that feed into his love of Americana.

So, while 1996’s alternative history That Thing You Do! and his and Steven Spielberg’s 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers don’t look to have much in common, both are about the creation of the era in which Hanks came of age. Hanks wrote the screenplay for Greyhound, and it hews much closer in spirit to the latter. (It also recalls his other miniseries projects as executive producer, including 1998’s From the Earth to the Moon and 2010’s The Pacific.)

Tom Hanks’ old-fashioned WWII movie

Based on 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester, Greyhound is a fictionalized account of a Navy officer running his first wartime mission in 1942. The shocking part is just how no-frills and old-fashioned the movie really is. Directed by Aaron Schneider (Get Low), the film takes its stylistic cues from Hanks’ closed-off and single-minded performance as Cmdr. Ernest Krause.

We don’t know much about Krause because the movie isn’t really about him. It’s about the idea of duty, of simply getting a job done. We know Krause wears slippers, has a woman (played by Elisabeth Shue) waiting for him if he survives, and is a fair and rational officer, sometimes to a fault.

Tom Hanks plays a stoic Navy man in Greyhound.
Tom Hanks plays a stoic Navy man in Greyhound.
Photo: Apple TV+

The Greyhound itself is a ship deployed to protect cargo as it crosses a small section of the Atlantic Ocean to help the war effort. Krause just needs to keep his ship, and the others in his charge, from being sunk by a U-boat. That’s about it for story. We only get cursory introductions to the rest of the crew (played by Stephen Graham, Hanks’ embarrassing son Chet, Devin Druid and the great Rob Morgan).

The movie doesn’t really give us a sense of the boat as a space, either. We spend most of the time in the cabin where Krause calls the shots. The only Black crew members are the porters who pour Krause’s coffee and prepare his food. Morgan plays one of them and is woefully underutilized.

Greyhound is totally ordinary

The movie shows a couple of sea skirmishes, which director Schneider captures in breathless and exciting fashion. However, we don’t get much in the way of style or excitement beyond the dodging of torpedos and launching of depth charges. The boats fight, one of them wins, repeat.

Schneider gets in a couple of impressive grace notes, like a pullback from the combat to reveal the aurora borealis high above the oblivious combatants. That image is sort of the project in a nutshell — one gets the sense that this particular mission wasn’t of greater or lesser importance than anything else.

Greyhound is just one ordinary movie about one ordinary man in charge of one ordinary boat. Hanks and Schneider were likely excited to make a film with so little emphasis and stakes as far as the eye could make out. (Aside from the color palette and digital effects, it could easily have been made in 1965.) Unfortunately, their approach sort of keeps the film from soaring.

Your dad will love Greyhound. You might, too, but you’ll just as likely forget it.

Rated: PG-13

Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.