If there's a pattern to the movie reviews around here, it's that if there's a major motion picture being done about war - particularly a World War, there's a 99% chance that review is being written by me. I don't know exactly why the genre is right up there for me with movies involving swords, superheroes, space wizards and imbeciles doing comedy. Though I suspect it has to do with vivid memories of my dad telling me stories about his adventures on an aircraft carrier in WWII. And the time when I was seven and my mom had us at the drive-in to see some G-rated family pap and my older brother and cousin came over from the other screen to ask her if they could bring me with them to see the other feature. She said yes. It was "Patton." And it imprinted on me in a way that I've had a lifetime obsession with war epics.
So I was only too happy to be one of the millions of people who signed up for Apple TV this weekend to see "Greyhound," written and produced by Tom Hanks based on the novel "The Good Shepard" by C.S. Forester. Hanks is reportedly crushed that his project didn't make it into the theaters due to Covid. And well he should be because not only is it a perfect summer blockbuster, you have to feel for the millions of dads and grandpas this is perfect for who are being denied the chance to walk into an air conditioned theater on their AARP discount, and will instead ask their adult sons how to find Apple TV on their Motorola Quasar televisions.
While we're discussing patterns, Hanks is into the "Captain" stage of his career. And while you might assume the captain he plays here - Krause, skipper of the destroyer USS Greyhound - most resembles Capt. Phillips because it takes place at sea or Capt. Miller because it's WWII or Sullenberger because he's an older guy, the character most resembles Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13. The crisis he's facing is guiding a convoy of troop carriers and cargo ships through the wolf packs of German submarines to England and not getting a broken spaceship safely back to Earth. But he's got that same demeanor of being the one who's keeping his head in the middle of a crisis, overcoming physical and mental exhaustion, and solving problems with almost primitive technology. Pencils on paper and grease pens on glass displays and trying to make impossible calculations that mean the difference between life or death in the middle of chaos that would break a lesser man.
And without giving anything away, that is the movie. Aside from a brief prologue where Hanks is saying goodbye to his girlfriend, the eternally beguiling Elisabeth Shue, the entire thing takes place on the battlefield that is the North Atlantic. There's no let up in the 90 minute running time. Barely any subplots, aside from a few character notes. It's more of a novella than a novel, all taking place of the course of a few days. It's like Hanks listened to the guys who hated the love triangle story line in "Pearl Harbor" and decided to give them a navy film that was all meat, no gristle.
Briefly, there was an area in the middle of the North Atlantic called "The Black Pit." It's the area where ships were too far from North America for air cover and not close enough to get air cover from Great Britain. So they were completely on their own and at the mercy of the German U-boats. Greyhound is joined by some British, Canadian and US ships, and Hanks is in command, though it's his first crossing. So for the entire run time he's making decisions, barking orders, battling exhaustion, going without food, testing the limits of his endurance, fueled only by adrenaline, caffeine, his quietly alluded to religious faith, and courage. Even while watching ships go down around him and being harassed over the radio by one of the German sub commanders, in some of the best shit talk from a European speaking English as a second language since The French Taunter in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
So yes, I love "Greyhound." As a matter of fact, it's the rare film I watched twice in the same weekend, and enjoyed it even more the second time. I'm still anxious to have the theaters open up before the summer movie season ends. But if being able to see a great film like this from my own couch just for subscribing to a streaming service I will unsubscribe to any day now is the new normal, I'll learn to live with it. Sorry, Tom Hanks. You're still a national treasure.
OK Boomer Grade: A-