There is a small love story lingering in the background in Greyhound, the new Tom Hanks’ high-seas World War II actioner… it doesn’t mean you have to like it. But stomach it you should, for greater things are right around the bend.

The setting is a hotel’s lobby where Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks), a naval commander who’s just gotten his first command, waits to sweep the love of his life, Evelyn (Elizabeth Shue), with a once-in-a-lifetime offer. Come across the Atlantic with him, he tells her, so that they can be together and he can officially propose marriage in an exotic location when the time is right.

Given their ages, Evelyn should have said yes.

Yes or no, either way she couldn’t have been in the film longer, but at least the nagging feeling one gets of an unfulfilled romance when Krause thinks of her during moments of emotional turmoil wouldn’t have been so oddly disconcerting. Pining for an uncaring woman in times of great distress does not help a movie.

Rarely have sea battles been as riveting, or as inventively handled, as in Tom Hanks’ and director Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound

Thankfully, in part because of Tom Hanks’ exceptional screenwriting skills, Greyhound doesn’t need much help (he is the sole writer, adapting C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel, The Good Shepherd).

Krause has command of the USS Keeling on his first mission. The Navy destroyer, nicknamed Greyhound, escorts a fleet of 37 Allied merchant ships across the Atlantic to resupply the war effort. With no air support for 48 hours, the fleet finds itself at the mercy of four Nazi submarines led by Grey Wolf — a German U-boat commanded by a very Nazi-sounding villain plucked straight out of any clichéd World War II movie.

Snarling with glee, the annoying Nazi commander often broadcasts his snide, mocking messages across the radio to unnerve the already-anxious crew of young, 20-year-olds under Krause’s command.

With sound effects mimicking the cry of an angry killer whale, Grey Wolf’s U-boats selectively hunt and sink merchant ships and their small navy convoy, with Greyhound sweeping around in desperation to stop the underwater attacks.

Rarely have sea battles been as riveting, or as inventively handled.

It is truly a disservice seeing Greyhound on your television — or worse yet, your mobile devices. The film has that rare, elusive cinematic quality one doesn’t find often on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Productions.

Hanks’s screenplay, and his performance as a rational, cool-minded, sharp-witted man of God, is as lean as the film’s incredibly short running time of an hour-and-a-half. Even though he shoulders the bulk of the burden, the film selectively emphasises individual moments of note for select characters working particular jobs on the ship. The ambience of the crew working as a single unit is hard to dismiss.

Hanks, again deliberately, confines the story — and the audience — within Greyhound. Within minutes of the first skirmish, Hanks and director Aaron Schneider successfully tether the audiences’ emotion to the crew’s predicament. The two sides of the screen — the people inside and the ones watching — almost synchronise as one, as tensions escalate and circumstances turn from bad to worse at an alarming degree.

The CGI isn’t groundbreaking, but after a while that becomes less of a bother because there isn’t time to let anyone’s thoughts wander around.

Conventional breaks where characters explicate personal backstories have no place in this film, just like Evelyn, whose images come and go within spare seconds — not that her image makes things easier for either Krause or the audience. Still, two irritable seconds aren’t as big a pain, when you’re transfixed at the edge of your seat.

Starring Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan and Elizabeth Shue, directed by Aaron Schneider, written and produced by Hanks, Greyhound is rated PG-13, and is streaming on Apple+.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 26th, 2020