There have been many war films over the years but few that have managed to capture the imagination, emotion and intensity of Hollywood’s finest titles in this category. With an illustrious catalogue to choose from, you’d need to look no further than German film Das Boot to find one of the best depictions of open sea warfare.
Greyhound is not this generation’s Das Boot, nor is it a particularly outstanding war film. It’s an action flick first and foremost that glosses a lot of its establishing and exterior shots with a lavish dose of CGI. Accompanied by a non-stop script full of action set pieces and a distinct lack of respite to build character, Greyhound is a largely forgettable film that feels like a popcorn munching summer blockbuster rather than a thought provoking war picture.
Inspired by actual events that took place during the Battle Of The Atlantic, Greyhound follows the exploits of the ship Greyhound and its accompanying convoy as they sail across the treacherous Atlantic toward Liverpool, into an area infamously known as “The Pit”. Set in 1941, the film follows the exploits of Captain Ernest Krause as he leads his men across the unforgiving ocean. Along the way he, and the other sailors at his beck and call, come up against numerous threats in the form of German U-boats that threaten to upend their mission.
Early on the film throws a fair amount of expository text at us, used to inform of the different ship names and a solitary, ill-placed flashback attempts to give Captain Ernest some characterisation to aid him in the mission ahead. Unfortunately the non-stop barrage of action and tension that accompanies this film leaves little downtime to ponder on what we’ve seen unless it’s a mournful funeral rite segment to honour those men lost in the previous skirmish. Only, because of a lack of time with these people, none of these scenes have the desired emotional impact they otherwise could have carried.
The closest bit of characterisation we receive here though comes from a recurring scene of a dedicated cook desperate to give the Captain some food. Everyone else is either cannon fodder, reduced to familiar faces we’ve seen in other films or Tom Hanks himself.
To be fair though, Greyhound does have its moments and there’s no denying some of the action set pieces here are really well-done. Hearing Tom Hanks urgently addressing the other ships and barking orders helps to add a lot of gravitas to the situation while a few of these segments will have you glued to the screen, desperate to find out if our plucky Captain has come out of this unscathed. The haunting audio effects and growling horns help here too but unfortunately these effects are used so much throughout the film that they start to lose their effectiveness after a while.
The bizarre sound effect used as a motif every time the German U-Boats surface is something worth mentioning too. At times, it feels like you’re watching a disaster or monster movie rather than a pulsating war piece. Compared to the musical score in 1917 which was released earlier this year, Greyhound’s audio design pales by comparison.
Visually, the film doesn’t fare much better either and there will undoubtedly be a big crowd of people turned away by the abundance of CGI on offer here. The unnatural camera smoothly lurches up, gracing us with a birds-eye view of the action which feels much more akin to a cut-scene in a PS4 game rather than a shot that enhances what’s happening. These moments really take away from what’s happening narratively and take you out the thick of action.
Seeing a submarine blow and a thick cloud of angry smoke curl into the air from the sky may seem like a nicely framed picture but it lacks the emotional resonance being up close and in the thick of the action may have carried. When you compare these moments to something like the underwater scene in Dunkirk or the masterful opening scenes to Saving Private Ryan, it’s yet another example of how effective practical effects and being in the thick of action can be.
With a story heavy on action rather than character, Greyhound is a movie that tries to compete with the big World War flicks but fails to step out their shadow. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s not a particularly great one either, falling somewhere in the middle of that endless sea of mediocrity and unlikely to find the convoy it needs to escort it back to land.