Hanks follows up his Oscar-nominated role in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” with a couple of intense days in the Atlantic Ocean in the solid World War II sea thriller “Greyhound” (★★★ out of four; rated PG-13; streaming Friday on Apple TV+). Clocking in at a crisp and efficient 90 minutes, director Aaron Schneider’s wartime drama stars Hanks as a Navy man thrust into his first command of a destroyer and having to deal with a pesky wolfpack of German U-boats.
Similar to his leader-of-men role in “Saving Private Ryan,” Hanks imbues a winning earnestness into Commander Ernie Krause in “Greyhound,” which the actor adapted himself from C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd.” Hanks also deftly captures the physical and psychological rigors of intense sea combat, as well as the crippling insecurity that envelops Krause when he second-guesses his own actions.
In February 1942, just two months after Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war, Krause sets sail on the USS Keeling (call sign: “Greyhound”), thinking of his girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue) back home and leading a large convoy of 37 ships hauling Allied troops and supplies to Liverpool. They have to cross the “Black Pit,” a dangerous stretch of the Atlantic out of aircraft range, and over the course of 48 nerve-wracking hours, Krause and his men play cat-and-mouse with crafty U-boat crews – and make hard decisions about which individuals to save or ships to defend – before they can get sufficient air cover.
The water-bound skirmishes are ferocious, as the U-boats – decked out with skull and wolf insignias – stalk their Allied prey, torpedoes whiz through the waves, and the Keeling has to avoid getting blown sky-high while also looking out for fellow convoy vessels.
Adding to the palpable tension is the frantic movement aboard the Keeling, with men running about, uneaten food dishes crashing to the floor and the captain of the “Gray Wolf” German sub trash-talking the Americans and actually howling over the radio. (True, it’s a little over-the-top but it sort of works.)
A fictionalized chapter inspired by the actual Battle of the Atlantic, “Greyhound” certainly has seafaring razzle-dazzle but could have benefited from the same focus on its characters. Much centers on Krause, a religious, thoughtful man who comes across rather easily by sticking Hanks in naval gear, but more is needed from Shue’s character and especially Rob Morgan’s mess mate George Cleveland. When not engaged with the enemy, Cleveland brings food to and generally looks out for Krause, wanting to make sure the captain is eating enough (he isn’t). There’s seemingly an unspoken bond between the two reserved men that’s sadly not explored.
The movie is successful at finding little details that make it feel lived-in and authentic. There’s the sailor who repeats information from the sonar operator to Krause and sneezes, causing everyone to give him side-eye. Or the way an exhausted Krause takes off his dress shoes and bleeds wherever he steps because of literally being on his feet for days.
Many of those moments add emotional punch to the visceral story, in which Hanks won’t steer you wrong: “Greyhound” satisfies as both a snazzy war picture and a showcase for its star.
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