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The Real Characters of Greyhound?

One of the common themes of reviews of Greyhound is the lack of character development. This contains potential spoilers while describing a different perspective on the characters in the film.

The movie doesn’t spend a ton of time fleshing out the characters. The ship’s captain, Commander Ernest Krause, is the only one that gets a modicum of a backstory, or some consistent activities to give some insight into the man. We know he has a girlfriend, and that she turns down his marriage proposal. We see a deeply religious person. But outside of that, we learn nothing about the rest of the crew, despite spending nearly 90 minutes (and over 2 elapsed days in the movie) with them. The reviews I’ve seen treat this as a flaw (some see it greater than others). However, I have a different theory: the actors aren’t the characters in the story. The real characters? It’s the ships. They are the characters, and the actors as the crew give one ship a more complete presence and persona.

The protagonists are the 4 escorts. The “hero” is the USS Keeling, callsign GREYHOUND. Their sidekicks are two British destroyers (callsigns HARRY and EAGLE) and a Canadian corvette (callsign DICKIE). Communication between the ships is reasonably frequent as they work together to protect the convoy, and they only ever refer to each other by their callsigns. In most ways, that the other ships have people on-board isn’t considered important to the story.

The antagonists, the bad guys, the villains, are the U-Boats hunting the convoy. The arch-villain is a submarine calling itself GREY WOLF. It is the only sub to contact the escorts, and as far as we know, they only ever want to talk to GREYHOUND. The few contacts are meant to shake the confidence of the escorts, and impart fear, not engage in a dialog. There is no verbal back-and-forth between the heroes and the bad guys.

The ships of the convoy are the innocent bystanders, unnamed but core to the story. They are the virtually nameless “innocents” that the 4 heroes are required to protect. The convoy is Batman’s Gotham, Superman’s Metropolis, the Avenger’s Earth. They never have a “voice”, in that any communication is via semaphore signal. On the “good guys” side, only the 4 heroes have voices over a radio.

If you think of the movie this way, we don’t really need to know much about the heroes or their foes. The heroes (GREYHOUND, HARRY, EAGLE, DICKIE) protect the convoy from the bad guys (GRAY WOLF and their compatriots). It’s a conventional story structure, and not one that needs ton of backstory or development. We already know the larger backstory: the Nazis have taken over Europe, and the US has joined the fight, one which Britain and her allies have been taking on for nearly 3 years. Convoys are needed to keep Britain supplied, and the losses have been enormous. This is the story of one of those convoys, those charged with her protection, and those determined to cause as much harm as they can.

It’s not a brilliant insight, and I’m sure others have thought of it as well. It doesn’t make the movie any better (it’s already really good). To me, it just creates subtle change in perspective as you watch the movie.