"Greyhound" (2020)- Movie Review

Directed by Aaron Schneider
Written by Tom Hanks (based on book by C.S. Forester)
Starring Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan

‘A Tense WWII Thriller’

Over the past decade or so, the war movie genre hasn’t fared so well. With their loud battle sequences, shallow characters and formulaic stories, modern war movies have become excruciating to sit through. The problem is that the main attraction of these movies has become bombastic spectacle rather than storytelling. Filmmakers have sought to recreate war using innovative cinematic techniques, but lost sight of telling engaging stories. To be fair, there have recently been a few exceptions to this trend (ex. “1917”). Nevertheless, it is rare to come across war movies that are worth watching on the big-screen.

In a genre that has deteriorated over time, Aaron Schneider’s latest film “Greyhound” is a pleasant surprise. An intense, action-packed and suspenseful war drama, it offers an enlightening look at naval warfare in World War II. With his second feature, director Aaron Schneider has crafted an authentic account of the struggles faced by naval captains in World War II. Packed with captivating cinematography, breathtaking battle sequences and fine performances, it is an effective war drama. Although “Greyhound” is undeniably engrossing, ultimately it is not a flawless film. Its story is formulaic, and suffers from a lack of compelling character development. Nonetheless, it offers enjoyable entertainment that will satisfy fans of the war genre.

Set during World War II, “Greyhound” tells the story of a U.S. Navy Captain that shepherds an Allied convoy across the North Atlantic. Tom Hanks stars in the lead role as Commander Ernest Krause, a naval captain that is sent on his first wartime mission. Assisted by his dedicated crew, Krause must command his ship through the North Atlantic. However, what starts out as a simple voyage soon turns dangerous when the convoy is attacked by Nazi U-boat submarines. As Krause is put under pressure, he becomes determined to save his vessel.

Director Aaron Schneider is no stranger to the war movie genre. His short film “Two Soldiers” was lauded for its authentic depiction of two brothers that are torn apart by war. “Greyhound”, however, marks his first naval drama and foray into the lives of sailors in World War II. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to capture the experiences of naval captains in the Battle of the Atlantic, but he pulls it off successfully. Using captivating cinematography, Schneider draws viewers into the world of an anxiety-ridden naval captain. From intimate close-ups to spellbinding establishing shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s distinct setting. Schneider’s decision to shoot the film using handheld cameras is risky, but it works tremendously. It lends a palpable sense of realism and authenticity to the movie that is missing from most WWII dramas. Working alongside cinematographer Shelly Johnson, Schneider creates a sumptuous film in which each frame captures the horrific circumstances of war. Schneider excels at immersing viewers into the cockpit of a battleship, and his latest feature is worth watching on Apple TV+ for this reason alone.

If stories of heroic veterans do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Greyhound”. On a technical level, the film is well-made and features impressive production values that merit attention. The action sequences, sound effects and musical score are all carefully chosen, combining to create an immersive cinematic experience. Schneider proves to be an expert at staging the battle sequences for his film. Assisted by sound-designer Mike Minkler, Schneider uses diegetic sounds to create breathtaking combat sequences. Whether it is the deafening gunfire explosions or roaring sea waves, the diegetic sounds immerse viewers into the film’s wartime setting. Diegetic sounds are tricky techniques to employ in war dramas, but they work immensely in this movie. Moreover, the musical score is also worth mentioning. Blake Neely’s score is highly effective. It gives the film a chilling and unsettling atmosphere that is reminiscent of war dramas from the 1990’s. Through outstanding technical elements, Schneider keeps viewers engrossed in the world of warfare.

In terms of acting, the entire ensemble is at the top of its game. The film mainly serves as a spectacular showcase for its leading man.

Tom Hanks delivers one of the best performances of his career as Commander Ernest Krause. Hanks has spent most of his career playing ordinary men that are thrust into extraordinary circumstances. With “Greyhound”, he returns to familiar territory in a role that appears to be tailor-made for him. It is not easy to get into the mindset of an inexperienced naval commander in World War II. However, Hanks pulls it off effortlessly. It’s a role that allows the actor to project his natural charisma and commanding screen presence. With riveting expressions, he conveys the courage, perseverance and self-doubt of a naval captain that is determined to keep his vessel afloat. It’s a phenomenal performance from one of the finest actors working today.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Stephen Graham is sensational and brings a sense of gravitas to the commander Charlie Cole. Rob Morgan is marvelous and imbues shades of humanity into the kind-hearted cook George Cleveland. And finally, it is hard to not mention Thomas Kretschmann. As a treacherous German submarine commander, he brings an air of menace to the movie.

Although “Greyhound” is undeniably a captivating war drama, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s one area where the film stumbles, it is in the storytelling department. Hanks’ screenplay is slightly problematic, and arguably the weakest aspect of the film. Hanks’ decision to focus solely on the spectacle of naval warfare is bold and innovative, but it detracts from the story. Due to this faulty approach, there are times when the film feels more like a video-game than a compelling wartime story. Moreover, the film suffers from a lack of character development. For instance, the main character is a stoic individual that is rarely seen outside his ship. It is hard to care about the fate of certain characters when we barely get to know them on a personal level. War movies thrive based on the enduring appeal of their characters, and in this regard “Greyhound” falls short of expectations.

On a final note, it is worth mentioning that “Greyhound” is a movie that is not meant for everyone. Given its technical jargon, the film may not please mainstream audiences. The film features several scenes in which the main character uses naval jargon to communicate with his crew. Viewers that lack an understanding of naval terminology may find it challenging to follow these scenes. Due to its complicated dialogue, “Greyhound” is one of those films that may not appeal towards commercial audiences.

Nevertheless, fans of war dramas will definitely enjoy “Greyhound” and so will movie-goers seeking engrossing entertainment. An impressive technical achievement, it sheds light on a little-known event in American history. Arriving on the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, it’s a stirring tribute to the Navy veterans that fought in the longest running battle in U.S. history.

3/5 stars

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