Tom Hanks is an okay writer. I got his book of short stories (Uncommon Type) and it wasn’t half bad. His music film That Thing You Do was solid. Now, his screenplay for Larry Crowne was atrocious. Yet I was looking forward to his script for the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd (which is a fictional story, but you think it’s real by what you see written on the screen).
What Hanks may lack as a writer, he makes up for with his acting and presence on screen. He has a multitude of facial expressions that all convey the perfect emotions. And while my big complaint about this movie is that it lacked character development, I’m sure Hanks is well aware of that, and that wasn’t what he was going for. He wanted a specific urgency, and the type of submarine/WWII thriller that’s a taut 90 minutes, with frantically yelling of phrases like “Right rudder!” (and other ship jargon that escapes me now). He also took a page out of his buddy Speilberg’s playbook. You see, people talk about how Jaws was so great because the shark wasn’t revealed right away. In this, the German U-boats aren’t seen much, aside from that metal dorsal fin that pops up when they’re “recharging their battery.”
This story takes place in 1942, with Allied ships heading to Europe, with lots of Nazi U-boats surrounding them. They get air support but only for part of the journey. There are 37 ships led by Captain Krause (Hanks), not to be confused with Captain Phillips, or Captain Sully, or Captain Miller (Saving Private Ryan). Krause’s warship is the Greyhound, and he and his crew are trying to spot the U-boats, and make lots of decisions (some of those involve whether he’s going to have a corned beef and onion sandwich). We quickly realize what a caring and religious man he is. At one point, when the crew celebrates their sinking an enemy boat, he is sullen, and laments the taking of “50 souls.” This is exactly why everyone was thrilled about Hanks playing Mr. Rogers.
I’ve heard some critics complain about the CGI, but I thought it all looked amazing. When we’re out at sea, trying to see what he can glimpse through his binoculars…or watching a torpedo whiz by, or ice starting to freeze things on the ship…it was all interesting. Yet at one point I felt bad for Tom Hanks. He’s one of the famous people that got Covid, and this movie he wrote and starred in, doesn’t get a theatrical release because of theatres being shut down by Covid. The scenes looked terrific on my TV, but I imagined how much more thrilling they’d be on a movie screen.
It’s a shame the rest of the cast isn’t given more to do. Elizabeth Shue bookends the movie as the love interest. Stephen Graham was interesting as the unflappable lieutenant, and Rob Morgan, who stars in one of my favorite movies of the year (Bull), isn’t given much to do. He brings coffee, ham and eggs, and corned beef (side note: this is the first review in which I’ve ever mentioned “corned beef” twice, but then, I’m Jewish).
The gunfire and explosions add some excitement, and there are occasional radio transmissions from the Nazi’s that are rather taunting.
The score by Blake Neely is powerful, oftentimes reminding me of whale sounds you’d hear out in the ocean.
The scenes of grey skies and choppy water are shot nicely, and there was a very powerful burial at sea.
This was directed by Aaron Schneider, who has won an Oscar. That was for a short film (Two Soldiers), but he made waves (no pun intended) with his first feature — Get Low (Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek).
I thought about two movies while watching this. One was Crimson Tide, after a scene involving a fight between two soldiers on the ship (that’s a scene Tarantino wrote for Crimson Tide). I also thought about Black Sea, which was directed by Kevin MacDonald, and starred Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, and Ben Mendelsohn. It’s not that they were similar, I just remember how much fun that movie was, and how it tanked at the box office (not even making $2 million). Now this film won’t make money at the box office, and rumors are Hanks isn’t happy with how it all looks and sounds in this version. But if you like war films, check it out. I have a buddy named Chris Childers that I smoke cigars with, and he loves war films. His dad has been really sick lately, and I like the idea of him getting together with his pops and watching this with him this weekend. They’ll both enjoy it. It’s certainly sea…errr…see worthy.
3 stars out of 5, and you can catch it on Apple TV+.