The year 2020 will be defined by two words, pandemic and lockdown. Those factors drastically shifted everything in society from everyday work life, to local parks and recreation, to restaurants and bars all being closed or shut down. Sporting events were postponed or in some cases cancelled altogether. Social interaction was advised against, lawfully prohibited even as was gathering in large groups. Cinemas therefore were and currently remain closed.
Originally scheduled for a cinematic release via Sony Pictures in March of 2020, with numerous delays thereafter as there appeared no definitive re-opening of cinemas, Greyhound was purchased by the relatively new Apple TV division (for a fairly hefty sum $70m) for its viewers to see as part of their Apple TV+ package. So was it worth the investment?
Based upon the book The Good Shepherd, by C.S. Forester, with a screenplay written by Tom Hanks, the film directed by Aaron Schneider tells the story of the Battle of The Atlantic during 1942 where the U.S. Navy supplied a support escort to those ships making the perilous journey to Europe offering protection against the German U-boats stalking the waters, shown on film previously in numerous other films but pretty definitively in Wolfgang Peterson’s Das Boot (1981).
Hanks plays Capt. Ernie Krause, the commander of the USS Keeling (Code name Greyhound) on his first mission. Hanks clearly relishes the formality of the naval speak, procedural nature of the command he’s portraying, the abbreviations used first hand between each and every crew member delivered with that familiar yet authoritative tone. Krause has his faults and acknowledges the mistakes made (the over use of ammunition for one), but Hanks plays him as a man with something going on that’s not really fully acknowledged on screen. He’s a man of faith clearly (the silent moment of grace before any uneaten meal) but I felt that Hanks leans into his age at times (his slow way of sitting down in a chair, his stature almost conveying an ailment or an unspecified injury taking its toll). He’s in nearly every scene and as an actor who’s done this a few times, he carries the film extremely well. With a largely young cast as his supporting crew, save for Stephen Graham as his Number 2 delivering that American accent that has served him increasingly well of late in both TV and film only solidifies his stature as one of Britain’s most talented actors working today. Elizabeth Shue has a fleeting cameo (despite third billing) as Krause’s preferred suitor and “friend” that isn’t mentioned again save for a recurring religious quote that references their relationship.
Given the ultimate medium of the film’s release, it felt to me like an expensive TV movie (it’s estimated budget was $50 million) and when you factor in the $70m Apple paid for it, it suddenly gives you a different perspective on the film (or at least it did for me). The film generally looks pretty good and during numerous tense action sequences, the articulation between department to department relaying jargon at that high speed commands your attention. Whilst the battles scenes are generally well handled and convey the sense of urgency, some of the CGI can dampen the sense of realism but I’ve seen far worse in films with a much higher budget. Also Greyhound can feel slightly repetitive (We’re under attack! Resolution. We’re under Attack! Resolution. Slippers. Under attack! Resolution) but crucially, it’s never boring, the lean and efficient 91 minute runtime is a welcome break from the glut of bloated blockbusters we’ve become used to in recent decades.
Have Apple tapped into the Netflix market then? It remains to be seen, mainly because Netflix is everywhere and as ubiquitous as Apple products, and their TV division isn’t anywhere near as established quite yet. Apple also has a number of filmmakers and actors attached to various projects that appear to have had large amount of money thrown at them which bodes well but it’s too early yet to consider Apple as Netflix’s biggest competitor in terms of content.
I wonder how Greyhound would have played in the cinema given the circumstances as to whether Sony, making a very small profit ultimately from its sale, might have missed a trick not holding onto the film when eventually the cinemas do reopen and people return. It might be a sound business choice by Apple, relying on Mr Hanks to push further their own platform to a massively populated market. Who knows? Either way, it’s not a bad way to spend 90 odd mins.
Greyhound is a solid if not game changing, medium budget, action-packed war film the likes of which were popular in the late ‘90s and early 2000s in the wake of Hanks’ Spielberg directed Saving Private Ryan. What it does well, namely provide a tense hour and a half naval drama, it does so with aplomb. Don’t go in expecting masses of character development, Greyhound is more about the dire situation and resolve and fortitude of brave men led by a fallible but ultimately brilliant captain. The execution, considering the fairly meagre budget, is strong and coupled with the anchor of the ever reliable Hanks makes Greyhound one of the strongest components of Apple’s roster and one that comes warmly recommended.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 7/10
Greyhound is currently streaming on Apple TV+.