Greyhound 2020 *****

Like a cartoon of an ill-informed soldier on a desert island, British cinema has been fighting World War Two in its head for decades; the need to remind ourselves (and the outside world) about British resilience was fuelled by Brexit, and stifled any potential for self-examination. America has a similar need to provide bona fides to its previous character as its president seeks to re-admit Russia to the G7 group; this handsome naval drama, streaming on Apple TV+, harks back to the best of US/British co-operation, and should warm the cockles of those who remember what once made these countries great.

Tom Hanks reaches back into the past to exhume the name and reputation of CS Forester, author of the Hornblower books (and The African Queen); sea-going heroism is the subject. Forester’s The Good Shepherd was published in 1955, part of a booming industry of novels showcasing the kind of derring-do, bravery and sacrifice that helped win the war. Hanks adapted this unfashionable novel for the script, and plays Ernest Krause, a fictional captain on his first command, escorting Allied craft across the Atlantic under the watch of predatory U-boats.

It’s something of a critical cliché to say ‘twenty minutes too long’ or ‘could have dropped a third’ or even ‘there’s a great 90 minute film buried in there.’ For once, and this is rare, none of these things are true. Greyhound is as fleet-footed as the USS Keeling herself, barely offering 90 minutes of narrative, stripped down, cinematic and on point. Intensity is the game, and we follow Krause as he hunts and is hunted by a wolf-pack of submarines through the Black Pit. Hanks plays to his own strengths, his ability to protect humanity, vulnerability, and bravery, and the results are inspiring. His Krause is terse, thoughtful, tormented, and utterly relatable as he treads the deck in carpet-slippers. While many multi-character WWII films make you feel like you’re like reading Wikipedia entries, Hanks doubles-down on character and gets under the skin of the captain to great effect; he never forgets that Krause is operating in a vacuum of uncertainty.

With Quibi seemingly stuck in the gate, Aaron Schneider’s handsome production is a great pick-up/acquisition for Apple TV+, their first ‘must-see’ product that should launch a millions free-trials. The action is constant, but the effects are sparingly used and effective; there’s at least a handful of hair-raising ‘wow’ moments that really deserve to be seen on the big screens as soon as cinemas re-open, and re-watch potential is sky-high. An awards-season re-issue would seem like an obvious next move; Greyhound makes a virtue of being fictional since the audience don’t know if this fictional story deals with eventual success or failure, and that edge makes it utterly compelling.

Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk aside, WWII has been something of a cinematic dead-end of late, with film-makers too keen to view the past through the prism of today’s issues. Focusing on deep blue heroics, Hanks earns his chops as a writer, but also reminds audiences worldwide that America once led the free world. Greyhound is a fiction that relates to a world of facts without alternatives; that the bravest took the biggest risks, and made the greatest sacrifices. It’s hard to imagine what a character like Krause would make of the US’s current dalliance with the symbol of the swastika; perhaps films like this will remind us all that America’s greatness as a world power wasn’t always a question of fake news.

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    • I do think this will be in cinemas at some point; it’s also possible that most of the world’s cinemas will be open in a few months, but there will be no new Hollywood product to show, which would put the cat amongst the pigeons in terms of US strangeholds on the world markets.

  1. Thanks for this! If you think about who Churchill had working for him, from Ian Fleming to Dennis Wheatley, there’s a film in there for sure!

    It’s a must to remember this kind of heroism, and I’m hugely impressed that Hanks would use his star-power to get a film like this made. Sombre, serious, intense and focused.

    I’m sure I’m one of many who look at the daily infection and death rates in the US and say a prayer from many friends (and family) who are at risk. It’s no coincidence that right wing governments who prize the ecomony over the lives of the people who drive it are having problems dealing with the pandemic. Maybe Trump will be booted out in November, but it boggled the mind to imagine that we could be looking at a trade -off of a thousand deaths a day until then, deaths which simply would not have happened without the politicisastion of health measures and re-openings. That is a tragic waste of life, and desecrates the universal human values that WWII was a battle to preserve.

  2. People like to have heroes and there are none now. The people dying at the hands of police are cause for sadness, sympathy and action, but there is nothing heroic about their loss. George Floyd should never have died at the hands of police, but he didn’t intend to risk his life, either. Unless you see something heroic about living daily life in the US, the only heroes we have work in hospitals or ambulances. Heroism involves willingness to risk life to accomplish something of value.

    Us older folk turn back to WWII because where was heroism in the fight against the Nazi evil and the holocaust. Out of 67,700 merchant sailors trying to get supplies to Europe in WWII, 8,421 were killed. The percentage loss among merchant sailors was actually higher than among those serving in the military. Every one of them knew the risk and still did the job.

    Hanks knows this. It’s tough to get to superstar status without incredible intelligence and he, Clooney and others of that calibre clearly have it. (Remember, Mick Jagger attended one of the most elite schools on the planet, the London School of Economics. Most people don’t know that institution exists much less have any prayer of ever seeing it.) So I’m looking forward to seeing this movie.

    By the way, if you really want your head spun by true tales of real heroism, read “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” Maybe we’ll get a movie based on that some day. It needs to be done.

  3. WWI and WWII, as a genre either in books or movies, has not interested me since my 20’s. They simply don’t appeal to me, which is odd because it seems like a time FILLED with heroics and men being heroic. That type of archetype is something I normally eat up with a spoon. But not in that setting. I wish I could nail down why.

    On a light note, that picture of Hanks reminds me of Popeye, squinting away 😀

    • Just re-watched Altman’s Popeye, so maybe that affected my choice of image. WWII movies are so often overblown, and I’m regularly frustrated that the heroics fall flat for me. But not here.

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