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Greyhound Runs Fast

AppleTV+, in association with Sony Pictures, released Greyhound last Friday. While some might assume the setting, a US Navy destroyer escorting a convoy to England in World War II, might not be the most gripping, the movie tells a tense, suspenseful story, packed into 90 minutes of tension. This is meant to be a spoiler-free review.

The movie is set in the spring of 1942, with the USS Keeling (callsign Greyhound) leading a quartet of escorts for a convoy of supplies destined for England. The story focuses on the 50 hours of what was known as “the Black Pit”, the stretch across the North Atlantic where the convoy would be outside of air cover range. For just over 2 days, the convoy has to rely entirely on the efforts of the escorts to protect them from Nazi submarines. Unsurprisingly, this convoy is being hunted.

The construction of the story, and how it is framed, is, in my mind, brilliant. With the exception of a few shots to establish some backstory, as well as some stunning exterior shots of the ships at sea, the bulk of the movie takes place in two locations: the bridge and the combat information centre (CIC). Both are small spaces, filled with men who are focused while coping with incomplete or contradictory information. These small crowded locations make for a very tense, closed-in feel, suitable for the suspense and fear that follows. The movie also doesn’t spend a lot of time in set-up. We get a brief sequence to understand more about the main character, Lt. Commander Ernest Krause (who would appear on the ship with his new rank of Commander, obviously promoted just before joining his command). The movie then jumps to the convoy quickly, and the action starts when the US Navy air cover is at the limit of their range and has to turn back. It’s basically non-stop from that point until the closing scenes, and there is very little in the way of “dead air” in the story.

The casting of Tom Hanks was brilliant, not just because he is an immensely talented actor. His age works perfectly because it is period-correct, and a wonderful little historical nugget that some would likely not see. Until the previous December, the US was not at war, and their military was still very much governed by peace-time practices. One of those was the difficulty in obtaining promotion and advancement. The character is of an age where they should be an Admiral, at least 3 ranks higher than they actually are, or at least a Captain, 2 grades higher. As a Lt. Commander before assuming command, there are only 2 commissioned officer ranks lower: Lieutenant, and Lieutenant Junior Grade. Krause, the character, was likely in supporting positions at sea, and possibly spent a lot of time ashore in administrative roles. That would be a fact of life for someone wanting to make the military a full-time and life-long career. Promotion in peace time beyond a certain level is as much about connections and internal politics as it is about ability. Krause’s promotion to Commander was likely after many years in the lower rank, and absent the war, may never have come.

That someone in his late 50’s or early 60’s is just receiving their first command fits with the time period. The US went from “peace” to “war” very quickly, and as ships formerly in mothballs were re-activated, they needed crews. Most would either be very young or relatively older. That would change as the war progressed, and promotion in wartime is far more likely (watch Band of Brothers to get a sense of just how fast someone can move up the ranks in war).

This little tidbit is interesting to history geeks, and for those like me who served in peace-time militaries. But for those more interested in just the story, the movie should be very engaging. The soundtrack fits the mood perfectly, giving wonderful musical cues to guide the emotions of the audience. A few shots do an amazing job of putting in perspective just what these convoys and their escorts were up against. The brief times we get to see the submarines, and the few times the one is taunting the crew over the radio, adds more spice and zest to the story.

Tom Hanks isn’t the only one providing a brilliant performance. Stephen Graham as the Executive Officer (XO) also has a solid performance, and the rest of the cast does an excellent job of showing the tension, and even fear, that comes with the job. Certainly, the characters aren’t all that fleshed out. The story, being very compact, doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development. But for this story, that works. It keeps the audience focused on the enormously difficult job facing the crews of these ships.

The movie certainly isn’t perfect. There are a couple of plot elements that might leave you scratching your head a bit. Leaving them out would not have detracted from the story. But overall, it is a well-paced story filled with tension and suspense. I give it a solid 8/10.