Greyhound Review: Tom Hanks Adrift

Based on a C.S. Forester novel I never read called The Good Shepherd, Greyhound has the makings of a crackerjack epic in the margins when you squint. With its sparse and bare-bones premise about men at arms attempting to survive the night (or several nights), this should be a claustrophobic thriller paradoxically set on the vastness of a stormy sea. Yet both Hanks’ script and Aaron Schneider’s direction leave a lot to be desired.

Heavy on nautical jargon and naval speak, the minutiae that likely adds slow-boil texture on a novel’s page drowns the film in procedural inertia, and the complete absence of concern for any of the supporting characters or junior officers and sailors makes Hanks’ Krause the only show in town. But there’s not a lot to see there.

Always superb at playing noble, even (or especially) under duress, Hanks provides Krause with a familiar dignity. But too little is made of the potential in his not being a tested officer. There’s the occasional off-handed remark that suggests a mental lapse on the captain’s part, or a sideways glance from a subordinate, but any potential of Krause turning into Humphrey Bogart’s Capt. Queeg—or just the audience fearing it—is squandered by a film unable to imagine Hanks as anything better than a two-dimensional hero. Instead of a cracking Bogie, we get another variation on Mr. Smith, which when trapped in a floating vacuum makes his constant religious platitudes ring hollow.

Of course a major contribution to this failure may be Schneider’s flat direction. Only Schneider’s second directorial effort intended for the big screen (even if it never got there), Greyhound has a listless quality that cannot seem to wrap its arms around the potential for white-knuckled dread. While there are a few standout moments, like the first time a U-Boat crosses beneath Krause’s ship, or when they hear the earliest taunts from U-Boat sadists over the radio seeking to psychologically torture their prey, in the main the film moves at a perfunctory pace that better resembles an unpleasant pleasure cruise. The lack of convincing CGI for those gloomy waves only makes matters worse.

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In different hands, it is easy to imagine Greyhound as a gripping thriller. Hanks obviously believed in the material, and considering one of his only two other screenplays includes the all-time classic That Thing You Do!, his instincts are obviously pretty sharp. But even without the coronavirus pandemic cancelling this movie’s release, Greyhound was clearly destined for the battleship graveyard beneath the waves. This way though, at least it has the dignity of no one seeing it sink.


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