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Greyhound

Released 2020. Director: Aaron Schneider

POP QUIZ: IN WHICH MOVIE DID TOM HANKS PLAY A CAPTAIN? Extra point for you if you say this is a trick question because Mr Hanks has played a captain more than once, and several more times if you include those he takes charge of a vessel. Let’s see. There’s Apollo 13, Sully and Captain Phillips where he had to overcome life-or-death engineering crisis, outsmart high-sea pirates and survive the crash landing of a commercial plane. Hanks was also a captain in Saving Private Ryan and captain of a shrimp boat in Forrest Gump. Hollywood’s favourite captain has returned to save the day once again in Greyhound.

Set in 1942 in the thick of World War II, Hanks is Captain Krause, commander of USS Keeling, codenamed Greyhound, a warship assigned to protect a convoy of merchant vessels crossing the north Atlantic carrying troops and supplies against German U-boats. This is Krause’s first voyage and Hanks leaves us with little doubt of the man’s inexperience but more than that, his quick thinking and decisiveness under pressure.

Director Aaron Schneider takes us out to sea pretty much straightaway without preambles or back stories, allowing only a short glimpse into Krause’s personal life when his sweetheart (Elisabeth Shue) turns down his proposal, an indication of the danger of the mission that might render her a widow.

The rest of the movie is a series of sightings and attacks over three days involving a lot of chasing and evading in treacherous waters, men rushing across decks and torpedoes firing, with the ping of sonar radar echoing.

The open-sea combat sequences make tremendous use of close-range and panoramic views. Often taking place under a darkening sky, tense moments of battle play out under disconcerting circumstances with indistinct targets, with gunfire and explosions above surging waves, the view rising and diving to scan for enemy subs, frantic swerves and tilt of the ship in the crossfire.

Hanks’ dismay when the movie was pulled from theatrical release and went straight to streaming is understandable. Even this captain is no match against the pandemic which has led to the shutdown of cinemas everywhere. The scenes of battleships cutting through roaring waves are made for a wide screen. On a regular TV set, things look a little different and sound a little different for a production like Greyhound.

On a smaller, more intimate level, Hanks is the kind of actor who can command your attention and sympathy whether the screen is the width of an auditorium or a 50-inch panel. This is the kind of role he does best and he easily eclipses everyone else. After the movie, try putting a name and face to a memorable supporting character on the ship and you might struggle. This is not necessarily a discredit to the rest of the cast. Greyhound is a war movie with its twin focus on the action and a character sketch. The majority of the crew onboard, under the leadership of the captain, meld and become a united but anonymous display of courage, bravery and sacrifice.

Virtuous and heroic are apt descriptions for many of Hanks’ characters. In the pantheon of respectable men he’s played, Captain Krause ranks as a minor role for Hanks. He might not agree with this assessment as Hanks himself also adapted the book by C.S. Forester for the screenplay. Krause is an ideal, unimpeachable and selfless. Just like many other men he’s played over the years. You know what to expect from a Tom Hanks movie and that’s exactly what you get. If you need your hope restored or a nudge to lift the spirits while you’re socially distanced, this should do.

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