Tom Hanks has past form with both war (Saving Private Ryan, Band Of Brothers) and water (Captain Phillips, Cast Away, Sully, Splash…). So it’s perhaps ironic that this World War Two sea thriller, Greyhound, should find him playing a man of relative inexperience: US Navy Commander Ernest Krause, whose first post-Pearl Harbor assignment is to shepherd a convoy of merchant ships through a stretch of the Atlantic that’s swimming with a ‘wolfpack’ of German U-boats.
Minimising exposition (Christmas ’41 flashback, Roosevelt quote, done) in its rush to battle, the 91-minute, aptly named Greyhound doesn’t dally. But does it linger? In terms of all-round characterisation, not so much. The good news is, director Aaron Schneider and Hanks – who wrote the script, based on C.S. Forester’s source novel The Good Shepherd – avoid over-manning the decks with war-flick ‘types’ (the cocky one, the marked-for-death-newbie, etc). Instead, though, with a couple of exceptions, they give us thumbnails. And that’s despite the exclusive focus on the Greyhound crew, eschewing cutaways to the protected convoy – whose lack of visibility arguably lessens emotional investment.
We don’t see the human face of the enemy, either – but their voices are heard loud and tauntingly clear over the radio (“The wolf is so very hungry...”). Here, and elsewhere, Krause offers a stoic response; throughout Greyhound, Hanks is a paragon of grim-faced understatement. But the mask of coffee-fuelled vigilance does slip, allowing humility and humanity through: during delicate expressions of faith, or when Krause quietly chides a crewman crowing over “50 less Krauts”. “Fifty less souls,” he replies.
True, the star’s presence can be almost too reassuring for a character who’s supposed to be in his first week on the job (the passage of time is continually captioned; bonus mark for annotations that help us tell one floating USS hulk from another). But given that Greyhound sometimes lets ‘relentless’ shade close to ‘monotonous’, and feels short of a killer set-piece or two, the movie would be a lot less seaworthy without him. After all, he can inject gravitas into staring at a window-wiper...