- Emma Simmonds
- 9 July 2020
Tom Hanks dons his captain's hat yet again in this solidly enjoyable war film
Tom Hanks is so seasoned at acting level-headed he must be handy in real-life emergencies and, as he admitted in a recent Guardian interview, he's played an awful lot of captains. So, his latest role comes as no great surprise. Adapting CS Forester's 1955 WWII novel, The Good Shepherd, Hanks the screenwriter gifts himself one of his most Hanksian characters yet: newly appointed US naval commander Captain Ernest Krause.
The year is 1942 and, soon after parting with his sweetheart Evelyn (played Elisabeth Shue), the suitably stoical Krause is tasked with escorting a convoy of supply ships through 'the Black Pit', the area of the Atlantic unprotected by air cover, where they will be the inevitable target of U-boat hunting squads. It's a simple, effective premise, using a fictional story to draw attention to lesser-known wartime heroics.
There are some genres that are significantly diminished by small screen viewing, and war films are right at the top of that list. With Greyhound originally scheduled to be released theatrically ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic, deprived of the immersive sound and big screen scope which should place you uncomfortably and exhilaratingly in the thick of the Battle of the Atlantic, the experience is undoubtedly poorer. Regardless, it still has the power to intermittently thrill, even if it's lacking the chutzpah of something like Dunkirk. Near monochrome in its visual misery, as clouds amass overhead and the sea rages an ominous air hangs heavy, enhanced by the appropriately thunderous score from composer Blake Neely.
It's all very old-fashioned, but the director of 2009's Get Low, Aaron Schneider (an Oscar winner for his short Two Soldiers), does a solid job here and keeps things unusually tight – a 90-minute war film is a rare and beautiful thing indeed. If the action can get repetitive, he pulls the odd bravura sequence out of the bag (a close brush with a torpedo being a highlight). Perhaps most impressively, Schneider gives his take on the genre a rather unique flavour by consistently evoking Jaws, depicting the U-boats like sharks cutting through the water, diving down and rising terrifyingly back up again, their 'fins' emerging from the waves. It's an appropriately sinister association that delivers ample tension.
Forester's original story is told from Krause's point of view and, likewise, Schneider hews closely to his protagonist's perspective. As Krause battles fatigue, a suffocating sense of personal responsibility and his own morality (shown to be a committed Christian, he visibly takes no pleasure in the destruction of enemy subs), there's little for the supporting cast to do in a film that relies heavily on apprehensive reaction shots. And so, actors of the calibre of Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan merely content themselves with watching the Tom Hanks show from the side-lines. Luckily for them, and us, it's pretty compelling.
Available to watch on Apple TV+ from Fri 10 Jul.