Review: Hanks lends a firm and sober hand to the tense naval drama

It’s Forrest Gump. It’s Mr. Rogers. He is Woody.

But with all the famous titles that Tom Hanks has owned, there are few who adapt as perfectly and as easily as “Captain” – whether to repel Somali pirates in “Captain Phillips”, to land a plane on the Hudson in “Sully”, find your way back to Earth in “Apollo 13”, or commander of World War II troops in “Saving Private Ryan”.

Now Hanks, our Everyman with square jaws, “America’s Dad”, even when his characters have no children, plays a captain again, in the new naval thriller set on Apple TV + – yet another of his forays in World War II, this time in the treacherous North Atlantic.

And let’s face it, there is something soothing just at the sight of Hanks wearing a helmet that says “CAPT” in these days when the world feels like it’s upside down (to quote another great streaming movie of the month, “Hamilton”.) As one character put it when the war is just beginning: “The world has gone mad, Ernie.” Indeed.

“Doggy style” is an exciting project for Hanks, who wrote the screenplay and whose interest in World War II led him from “Saving Private Ryan” to “Band of Brothers” to “The Pacific”. Here he focuses on a less chronic part of this war: the Battle of the Atlantic, which began in 1939 and ended in 1945 with the defeat of Germany. As the film tells us in the credits, the Allied losses included 3,500 merchant ships and 175 sunken warships, and more than 72,000 crew members and soldiers killed (some estimates have an even higher human loss).

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Based on the novel “The Good Shepherd” by CS Forester and directed by seasoned cinematographer Aaron Schneider, “Greyhound” may not be so much a thriller as a very stripped-down economic drama – a tightly focused narrative of from a point of view: that of Captain Ernie Krause on his warship, the Greyhound, leading a convoy of 37 supply ships to Liverpool.

All you really need to know is that the supplies carried on these roads were crucial for the Allies: they included weapons, food and other essentials. But the ships had to make their way perilously across the sea, particularly the so-called “Black Pit”, the part of the ocean that is not accessible by air cover from American or British forces.

So for 50 hours here, the ships have to fend for themselves against the Germans and their submarines. Enemy forces mock the greyhound with radio threats – “You and your comrades will die today,” they warn. The journey is both monotonous and terrifying. For hours nothing can happen, then in a matter of minutes, all of hell can be unleashed, sometimes on multiple fronts.

Krause is a faithful religious man who keeps his emotions to himself. When we meet him, it is in February 1942, and he was finally assigned to his first overseas mission. We come back a few months earlier for the only personal glimpse we get of Krause’s life: he meets his lover, played by Elisabeth Shue, in San Francisco and asks him to leave with him so that he can propose in style.

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But she says they have to suspend things until he comes back. Clearly she thinks he might not get there.

The rest of the film takes place on the ship. The experience – for Krause and for the viewer – is claustrophobic. The captain never seems to leave his perch, even to eat or sleep.

The script is heavy on naval jargon: “Stand by for shallow pattern!” “All ahead!” “Reciprocal course!” These expressions are not explained; we must be careful. But we do it. What brings the film is the touching and incredible representation of Hanks of a man who is very professional but also frightened, and who is nonetheless fully aware of the issues.

It is also pained by the human cost, and not only on its side: When a submarine breaks down, a sailor exults: “Congratulations, captain – 50 krauts less!” Krause responds grimly: “Fifty less souls.” The most touching scene is that where he conducts a funeral at sea for three men who fell in battle.

Hanks has been working on this project for years. Of course, he always imagined it in theaters.

But even on a small screen, this new project looks like a timely but discreet offer for those troubled days. It will also escape the attention of a few that the actor is one of the most prominent names to have suffered – and defeated – the coronavirus, making his face an even more welcome sight at the moment.

The world has indeed gone mad, Tom. It is comforting to see you steer the ship.

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“Greyhound”, an Apple TV + release, has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for its war-related action / violence and very short language.” Duration: 91 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Source: AP News

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