My Pa and I used to watch the occasional war movie. A few too many memories made them exhausting experiences – however stiff the upper lip or brutal the cinematography. Old Jack here had quite forgotten the visceral desperation, the anxiety, they could drive through the blood stream. Not all adrenaline is welcome. Here, it is. A new film, coming through the TV when it deserves a post-Lockdown big screen, it is the CGI-heavy and personality-light tale of a protective warship and her captain, struggling to get a convoy of supply ships from the Americas to Liverpool: Greyhound.
It has the air of war story books – all those covers with grey seas and grey ships, heavy and metal – and delivers on the promise of stress, men in silent angst, middle-aged leaders tormented by decisions and young faces, and cruelty. From heavy waves to tormenting Nazis sneering over hacked radio signals to brutal deaths and an almost, but not quite, inept funeral at sea…everything you’d expect is in Greyhound. Except.
There’s an except.
Except cheery interaction. The personalities of the men on the Greyhound are buried under duty and esoteric, and I don’t doubt pitch perfect, naval jargon. They contend with physical failure: radar at its limits, pencils on paper to desperately calculate the presence of the U-Boats hunting them like knackered dogs, and, in the case of a newly promoted, 60+ year old captain, simple, bloody, sore feet. That’s Tom Hanks, by the way, as not-so solidly all-American Captain Krause working to his own script from a C.S. Forrester novel from the 1950s.
And perhaps that last sentence covers it all. This is a story told ten years after the war was done. As anyone who has lost someone will tell you, that is ten years and moments later. So, the room for delicate personality points and interactions is not made. In truth, it probably wasn’t there in the real world. We follow Greyhound across a desperate – terrifying – day under attack from submarines, missiles, wretched luck and a sea so big and terrifying it makes you question those who love it. Most of the action is inside the thickly metal ship, human frames small and vulnerable against the bulk, with neither time nor tide to allow much rumination before the next decision. And Krause, ready of prayer and Christian guilt at the broiling oil of sunk enemies, is old, small, earnest, considerate and – failingly for the entertainment here – uncommunicative. He does orders, instruction and his only telling moment of doubt out of earshot. Hanks gives a very Hanks-under-duress performance: lovable and terrific, but it asks for total obedience and trust from the ranks.
The only back-up that really stands out from the boyish faces and the apologists for swearing under fire (a quaint, valuable touch) is from Elisabeth Shue as the flashback girlfriend, Stephen Graham as the navigator-cum-engineroom warrior whose accent only occasionally wants to get home; and Hanks’ bed and slippers. It’s difficult to say which ones put Krause most at ease.
This is a short film, action-packed in a grown-up, harsh kind of way. Let the CGI go and be in the tension with the Greyhound and it’ll reward you with a visceral ride. Old Jack liked it, but the light characterisation kept me an observer. That and memories of my Pa, his entranced face when that first batch of war movies hit the screen, and the glitter of his tears.
We, like Captain Krause, never spoke about what had happened once the music stopped.