Thursday, July 9, 2020

Tom Hanks fights furious battles at sea

     Tom Hanks goes to sea in Greyhound, a drama consisting almost entirely of action sequences built around  Hanks's ability to project steadfastness and decency. The movie pretty much skips everything else.
      Hanks, who wrote the screenplay, and director Aaron Schneider dive headlong into a sleekly mounted 92 minutes of  World War II action, notably, the Battle of the Atlantic.
     Schneider serves up another salute to Greatest Generation valor but -- to be fair -- it's impossible to watch Greyhound without being stunned by the fury of ocean battles in which Hanks's Capt. Ernest Krause takes charge of a destroyer, his first command. The ship -- named The Greyhound -- serves as part of a convoy guarding ships that carry supplies from the US to England.
     Making the journey requires crossing a stretch of the Atlantic dubbed The Black Pit, a section of ocean in which air support for the mission vanishes and Nazi U-Boats appear.
     Schneider begins with a more or less irrelevant prologue set in San Francisco.  Before departing for training, Krause proposes marriage to Evelyn (Elisabeth Shue). She wants to wait until he returns from battle. Shue then vanishes from the story, and we're aboard the Greyhound.
     Sonar beeps, tension, and genuine fear give the movie an aura of realism not always apparent in the digital effects as ships ply rough waters.
     Perhaps remembering such gut-wrenching movies as Das Boot, Hanks and Schneider streamline everything to the point where the other characters hardly matter. But unlike Das Boot, the unrelenting action -- streaming torpedoes and dropped depth charges -- can't help but lose some of its steam.
     So, yes, The Greyhound offers full immersion in the unnerving ferocity of combat at sea, but I sometimes felt as though I were watching an unsatisfying half a movie. Hanks and his director have given us a war-time procedural. They throw character and story development overboard, almost as if keeping more than traces of either might sink the whole ship.

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