War movies have been a longtime staple of Hollywood. When considering war movies as a subgenre, they enjoy a certain flexibility that makes them difficult to pin down. Some war movies are built upon high stakes action, others dig into the incredible true stories of history’s greatest figures delivering epic drama. The best war films know what they are and lean into it. Greyhound, unfortunately, does not seem to possess that sense of identity and just sort of floats in mediocrity.
Greyhound is written by and stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Aaron Schneider. Hanks stars as a longtime Navy veteran and first-time captain of a vessel that is tasked with protecting a convoy of ships through an, especially treacherous passage. The film is set in the Atlantic, at the very beginnings of World War II. For five days, the ships will have no air protection and its precious cargo of soldiers and urgently needed supplies must travel through an area of the ocean known as “The Black Pit” — where Nazi U-boats and submarines are lying in wait to destroy them.
While Greyhound is based loosely on events that occurred during the Battle of the Atlantic, the film does not claim to be an account or retelling of any particular conflict or the actions of a specific military hero. As mentioned at the outset, war movies generally have to rely on either pulse-racing action or the inspirational stories of heroes. The fact that Greyhound is neither is easily its biggest obstacle.
Greyhound is a very tedious watch. There is a great deal of monotony and repetitiveness that makes each scene run together into a vague blur of military jargon. Greyhound starts with deceptive abruptness. Precious little time is spent introducing Tom Hanks’ character and it feels that we are instantly thrown into the thick of things. It’s nearly disorienting.
The film is formatted to show the events of each of the five days that the ships are left without air support. This is not unusual for war films but each of the five days shows nearly identical events. Greyhound depicts siege after siege and every water battle follows the same notes as the other. Between those action scenes, there is not much shown in the way of characters or emotional stakes. We’re simply filling time, waiting for the next fight.
At times Greyhound is a great-looking movie, with beautifully constructed shots and strong visuals. However even these suffer from repetition and it doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize that, by the film’s halfway point, we’ve already seen the best that the film can offer. What’s worse is that Greyhound‘s excellent cinematography is broken up with extremely artificial-looking special effects. There is quite a bit of this film that is generated in the soulless abyss of a computer and it shows.
As I mentioned at the outset, Greyhound is a piece of historical fiction. Without a real-life hero to rally behind and with little emotional stakes being manufactured, it is damn near impossible to emotionally invest in this film. Further, the villain is equally lacking. The audience’s experience with the film’s villain is limited to ominous CGI submarines bursting through the surface and the, frankly, cheesy dialogue of a Nazi captain blaring occasionally over the communications. Both sides of the conflict feel like surface-level caricatures of heroes and villains from other films. The viewer has nothing to connect to or oppose.
The film does have occasional moments of greatness. Tom Hanks is, not surprisingly, a compelling presence. He brings a calm and protective presence to the character, which makes the viewer yearn for a more intimate portrait of this quiet man that must safeguard the lives of so many. Despite the repetition of the battles, there are a few key moments of heart-stopping action and close calls that bring a jolt of electricity to the viewer. It’s a shame that these moments are the exception and not the rule. It only draws attention to everything that is missing from the rest of the film.
Overall, Greyhound is…fine. Its worst sin is being simply adequate. It neither impresses nor disappoints, but it certainly does not go beyond the bare minimum. As a streaming flick, it will blend seamlessly into the ranks of its kind but will likely be forgotten. Which really is a shame.
Greyhound will be available exclusively on Apple TV+ on July 10, 2020.
Greyhound is…fine. Its worst sin is being simply adequate. It neither impresses nor disappoints, but it certainly does not go beyond the bare minimum. As a streaming flick, it will blend seamlessly into the ranks of its kind but will likely be forgotten. Which really is a shame.
Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Nightmarish Conjurings, and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @CaitDoes.