Greyhound review: Something’s gone awry when Tom Hanks fails to charm

Tom Hanks in 'Greyhound': Apple
Tom Hanks in 'Greyhound': Apple

Dir: Aaron Schneider. Starring: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, Karl Glusman, Elisabeth Shue. 12 cert, 91 mins.

Of the films that have bypassed the big screen this summer, with cinema closures halting their original release plans, none have been abjectly terrible. Rather, whether it’s the Judd Apatow dramedy King of Staten Island or the pepto bismol-coloured Trolls World Tour, they’ve all been resolutely fine – pleasant, well-made distractions that go down easily and are soon forgotten. Greyhound, a Second World War sea thriller offloaded to Apple TV+ by Sony Pictures, does not buck that trend.

Its star and screenwriter, the sentient hug that is Tom Hanks, has been in these waters before. As the commander of a US navy ship, he resurrects the stoic if haunted fortitude of the military captain he played in Saving Private Ryan. There are obvious shades of Captain Phillips, too, with Hanks and his crew almost entirely confined to a beleaguered boat for the duration of the film. You half expect it to wash ashore and for Hanks to make friends with a volleyball, just to complete the hat-trick of throwbacks. But such easy reminiscence of Hanks films gone by only enhances Greyhound’s comparable flatness.

The setting is the USS Keeling, a Navy destroyer that must lead a convoy of ships transporting Allied troops and supplies to Liverpool. Hanks is Ernest Krause, the man in charge, caught between his moral duty and his own understandable insecurities. Playing out largely in real-time vignettes as the Keeling is bombarded with torpedoes and threats, the film is like 24 on the high seas.

It’s also painfully functional, more invested in historical accuracy (impenetrable Navy terminology abounds) than cinematic drama. Nods to Krause’s humanity are never more than superfluous, the great Elisabeth Shue airlifted in as “Wife” for a few largely silent flashback sequences as he remembers better times. Krause’s crew, played by strong character actors such as Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan and Karl Glusman, are by and large wallpaper.

Perhaps much of the film’s character-driven weight got lost in the edit; the film clocks in at a scant 90 minutes. What’s here is fleetingly thrilling, director Aaron Schneider mounting impressive sea action full of crashing waves and near-misses, but it’s also missing something. Hanks has described Greyhound as a passion project, and voiced slight disappointment over its move to Apple, but it lacks the soul or warmth he so regularly brings to these kinds of movies. There’s no heartbreaking catharsis, no right-side-of-treacly plot turns. That might well be the point – every character faceless by design – but it makes Greyhound puzzlingly inert.

Hanks, both on-screen and off, can deliver chicken soup for the soul in his sleep. Hell, he’s spent most of 2020 making us feel intermittently soothed – be it via the comforting openness with which he fought Covid-19, or the time he sent a typewriter to a bullied youngster named Corona. That it doesn’t translate here ought to be studied. Rare is the Hanks movie that leaves you feeling absolutely nothing.

Greyhound can be streamed via Apple TV+ from 10 July