“Greyhound” is an old fashioned “Victory at Sea” style combat epic — narrow in focus, heroic in nature and relentlessly action-packed.
The escort destroyer skipper Tom Hanks plays gets no rest, on the bridge and on his feet for days on end as the U.S.S. Greyhound confronts a German wolf pack of subs, attacking his convoy day and night in the “black pit” — the point farthest from land, in the middle of a Feb. 1942 crossing.
This nail-biter of a thriller will make you feel like Capt. Ernest Krause — adrenaline rushes of alarm that will leave you exhausted by the end of this 90 minute summary of what this dangerous duty was like in those, the darkest days of the Battle of the Atlantic. Nazi submariners called it “Die Glückliche Zeit” — “the (second) happy time,” when the pickings were the easiest among Allied merchant ships and their escorts.
Capt. Krause is an older-than-he-should-be Navy officer who finally gets his first command after Pearl Harbor. He is the Navy version of Army Captain Miller, Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan.” He’s by-the-book, reminding his young subordinates “This is what we trained for,” but probably conscious of the looks the others on the bridge exchange at every miscue, misstatement and gamble he makes in this fight.
The script — by Hanks (adapting a C.S. Forester novel) — is peppered with “explainers,” WWII Naval jargon which the captain or his crew illuminate the audience about, the tools of the U-Boat hunting trade —“huff duff” and the like.
The strict chain of command on the bridge, with Krause dealing with an endless succession of messengers, relayed radio messages, intercom updates with his trusted “Ex O” (executive officer, played by Stephen Graham), give us the same sense of professionalism that Hanks brought to his “Private Ryan” captain, his tanker skipper in “Captain Phillips,” to Sully” the airline pilot, even the Fed Ex manager of “Cast Away.”
He REVELS in this stuff, sounding like an old salt for whom Naval jargon is second-nature, maintaining professional calm in the frenetic heat of battle because that’s what he’s been conditioned to do.
The film’s first “pip” (submarine radar surface contact) is chased down almost in real-time, a breathless sprint to keep a U-Boat from reaching the convoy. Before the days in this “no air cover” zone in mid-Atlantic are over, the “Greyound” (another nickname for destroyers) and its “flock” — merchant ships, tankers, converted ocean liner troop carriers and fellow escorts — will be attacked, time and again.
And in between attacks, erman taunting by radio. A sub skipper of the U-Boat “Grey Wolf” sneers “We hunt you. Zis wolf is HUNGRY. HOOOOooowwwwl.”
I kid you not. Did this sort of thing happen? Maybe. Then again, I’ve never read anywhere that Germans gave their U-Boats names.
That, and a somewhat pointless prologue — Krause was not just late in life getting a command, he can’t seem to convince Elisabeth Shue to marry him — are the rare missteps here.
“Greyhound” is made the way such films are created these days, with bridge interiors and deck shots of still-floating WWII vintage destroyers, and a lot of digital recreations of surface ships and U-Boats, hunting and being hunted — shooting and depth-charging, rising and plunging on the towering seas of the North Atlantic in winter.
Cinematographer turned director Aaron Schneider (“Get Low”) masks that with nearly non-stop action and a beautifully gloomy blue-grey color palette with splashes of orange flames and explosions. The film’s look is consciously reminiscent of a J.M.W. Turner painting — violent, dark and foreboding.
It’s the sort of movie Hollywood made plenty of examples of, from the early ’40s well into the ’60s. Hanks has skippered a picture that stands with the best of them, movies like “The Enemy Below,” an action-packed thriller with pathos, patriotism and military professionalism.
It might have been lost among the blockbusters of a normal movie-going summer. This year, it’s as good an excuse as any to sign up for Apple TV+.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for war-related action/violence and brief strong language
Cast: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, Karl Glusman and Elisabeth Shue.
Credits: Directed by Aaron Schneider, script by Tom Hanks, based on the novel by C.S. Forester. A Sony Film, an Apple TV+ release.
Running time: 1:32