Tom Hanks is the only reason to see Greyhound, but that’s a very good reason, indeed.
Putting aside his debut in an a supporting role in horror flick He Knows You’re Alone (1980), the actor’s timeless, instantly likeable charm served him well early in his career, first on television (Bosom Buddies) and then on the big screen (Splash, The Money Pit), before cementing his popular comic reputation in Big and The ‘Burbs.
He endeavored to widen his range in dramatic misfires (Every Time We Say Goodbye, Punchline, The Bonfire of the Vanities), but it wasn’t until his anguished performance in Philadelphia, followed by Forrest Gump and, especially, Apollo 13 that he appeared to be bullet-proof.
Though he remains primarily known as an actor, he began flexing his other creative muscles, writing and directing That Thing You Do! (1996) and becoming even more involved as a producer. Hanks misfired rather severely as a writer and director on Larry Crowne, but he has found his groove as a writer again with Greyhound, which is adapted very smartly from C.S. Forrester’s novel The Good Shepherd, first published in 1955.
Forrester’s novel details the inner turmoil experienced by Commander Krause, finally promoted to captain and the leader of a strike force intended to protect a large convoy of supply ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean during World War II in early 1942, largely without the benefit of air cover. Krause suffers many self-doubts about his fitness and qualifications for the task at hand, but he is steadily determined to fulfill his command and keep the force as safe as possible.
Under constant attack by a pack of German submarines, the ships race through rough seas, and Commander Krause’s continual flurry of decisions are made under extreme duress. Having in mind that Hanks wrote the screenplay, he knew he would be required, as an actor, to spit out lengthy, detailed orders, commands, and requests ad infinitum, all while retaining a show of dignity and moral courage. No easy task, that, but Hanks lives up the challenge, crafting a script that is quickly absorbing, despite all the military jargon that is crisply barked out by the Commander and his men.
It’s very tempting to think that Hanks functioned as a one-man show with Greyhound, since he also serves as a producer and, well, he is Tom Hanks. However …
Director Aaron Schneider made an impressive feature debut in 2009 with the quiet and gentle Get Low, which might make him sound like an odd choice for a military action flick, awash in special effects to portray much of the military maneuvers. Yet Schneider’s hand as a director is steady; Get Low featured beautiful, well-modulated performances by veteran actors such as Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Gerald McRaney.
Thus, I think the logical conclusion is that Aaron Schneider collaborated with Tom Hanks on his performance, in which Hanks conveys, largely through his physical bearing and the movement of his eyes, the great weight that the fictional Commander Krause takes upon himself as he endeavors to deliver as many lives and supplies as possible to the promised land that was Europe during the Second World War.
Surely, it’s a performance among the finest in his career, but the time for ranking such things is later. For now, it’s enough to watch and enjoy a fine actor in a fine role, even on a small screen.
The film is available to watch, exclusively on AppleTV+, as of Friday, July 10, 2020.