dir: Aaron Schneider
Tom Hanks is not just a dad to four kids, he is America’s Dad. It is a role superior even to Pope or President: he supersedes them in the White American Anglo-Saxon Protestant patriarchal hierarchy. In his role as America’s Dad, he created this gift to the Dads of the world, and gifted it to streaming service Apple TV+, during these troubling times where a lot of Dads are in quarantine and have run out of DIY projects in their respective sheds. This will keep them occupied for 90 or so minutes, so they won’t need to pause it too often for loo breaks.
In a different era the intent would have been to create something that everyone, in the so called Western world, would be able to give a copy of to their Dads for Father’s Day, after taking their dads to the cinema for the first time in decades, several months prior to the home release. But that world is gone. In some ways it’s even further away than World War II itself, because back in the 1940s, people were still able to go to the cinemas at least, even as the Nazis’ bombs were falling from the skies.
The world that exists now still has a surplus of Dads whose only subject of interest is that War, because they can speak of it comfortably (unless they’re from a German background), with enough distance, to celebrate the heroism of the men involved and men in general, those bonds of brotherhood unsullied by the presence of pesky women. Men being men, camaraderie, bonding, sexual prowess mockery, feats of strength, general dick measuring, casual racism, all that kind of stuff.
Greyhound fits snuggly within all those needs, so it’s going to be catnip for the right Dads. Almost any of the actual men who would have been in the navy back then are most likely either dead, being killed by their respective countries’ negligent responses to the coronavirus especially with regards to aged care facilities, or are having a nap right now, shh, let them rest, don’t wake them, they’re just going to ask for more painkillers.
Tom Hanks himself wrote the screenplay, and plays the main character, as the commander of a destroyer protecting a fleet of ships carrying war supplies to England. He is an older gentleman, commanding for the first time, and it’s 1942, so there’s plenty more war to come after these events. Unlike the other war film America’s Dad is best known for, being Saving Private Ryan, the intention with this flick is to keep the focus very narrow, and not to pontificate about the bigger picture of the whole world at war, just one guy on one ship, and his crew, trying to do a job. Hanks’s character already has the in-built personality or character of Tom Hanks. They call him Commander Ernest Krause, but no-one’s really fooled, it’s just Tom Hanks in another Dad role. We accept it, everyone else accepts it; it could even be what we need right now.
He commands a destroyer for the first time in his life, and these are not easy times. The German U-boats are sinking heaps of these Allied craft trying to make it to Liverpool for much needed war type supplies like pictures of Betty Page, cigarettes and candy bars. This doesn’t just represent war time supplies not getting through if they’re sunk; each of those ships has a lot of people on board, too.
A so-called wolf pack of submarines is trailing the convoy, and only Tom Hanks, I mean, the commander of the destroyer nicknamed Greyhound can protect the flock. Will he succeed?
Will he fuck. Sorry, inappropriate and such. This is the perfect dad film to watch with one’s olds, because there is no nudity, only one instance of swearing, a tiny bit of blood, and all the deaths mostly occur off screen. Perfect PG rated experience for those forced to watch movies with their elders in this horrifying era of the quarantine that never ends.
There’s only one woman in the entire goddamn movie, and she’s not even killing any of the Germans with her bare hands or anything. Elisabeth Shue appears very, very briefly at the beginning, at a Christmas get together with Tom Hanks where, considering the fact that Hanks’s character, like Hanks, is in his 60s, I guess? He has no business marrying someone who looks that great in her mid-50s. Still, when he whips out his offer of marriage and lays it on the table, she demurs, saying that, what with the war and all, maybe they should wait until less crazy times.
She could have just said “At our age, marriage is pointless, but I’ll string you along with the expectation that you’ll probably not make it, champ.” It seems more polite than a flat no. Still, for the purposes of the film, brief images as he remembers her will flash up on the screen, as if to remind us that he’s definitely cis hetero, despite all the time he’s spent in the Navy, and that instead of fighting for random ships, or the sailors on his ship, or America, or freedom, or liberty, or the right to not wear a mask and die, he is fighting so that he can get back To Her.
Aww. Isn’t that cute. On the destroyer his word is law. The various young chaps under him keep giving each other side-eye whenever he issues a command. As if to imply “what the fuck could this guy know about what we do?” But his random-seeming commands, never issued in anger, prove to be the right course of action at all times.
Just like a good Dad should. In this commander and this crew, with minor variations, we see the perfect male fantasy of technical competence surpassing any and all possibilities – if people know their job perfectly right, and perform it perfectly and at the right time, everything will be all right. Anything chaotic that comes along will be dealt with. Nothing can go completely wrong if only you all listen to Dads.
The vast majority of this flick is tightly paced engagements with the dastardly U-boats and their evil German commanders, or, occasionally, nearly running into some of the ships they’re trying to protect. Of course, they can’t protect all of the ships – we have to see what the consequences are if they can’t get there in time or slip up in their sacred duty. So a number of ships get sunk or blown up or both, with very few people being saved from the water. And the people on the Greyhound aren’t immune to gravity or physics either. Some of them will die before the mission is done, too.
When stuff is happening, it’s ALL happening. Because of the nature of communications from different parts of the ship, sonar or radar readings are relayed twice, orders are relayed twice, so we hear everything multiple times, yelled by super concerned men doing manly things, with all this unexplained naval jargon that Dads, the ones watching, will either know outright because of all the books about WWII they’ve read, or they won’t be able to bring themselves to admit they don’t know what they mean.
And the mantra continues – do everything exactly as you’re supposed to, and we will win. All of this is not only tightly paced, there’s also an insane high energy soundtrack keeping things, like the blood pressure of the Dads watching, dangerously high (but not too much, we don’t want to kill Dads, do we Mr Hanks, we just want to keep them engaged, like the last action-y bits of an episode of CSI or Midsomer Murders when it looks like the murderer might get away but then they confess after they get a good scolding).
There is also this crazy, no good, flat out bad, electro-dosed sound kinda like a cyborg whale wailing in pain; a keening, banshee sound whenever the Germans are almost in sight, to remind us that the thing Hanks and crew are chasing could always be there, ready to kill wholesome American sailors. And there’s no way this happened in real life, but there are a bunch of times when the commander of one of the U-Boats himself gets on the radio, to taunt the protector ships, and to tell them that they will kill them eventually.
He even mimics what is meant to sound like their dying screams. I know it’s meant to make them seem more fearsome, or like arseholes more deserving of death, but to me some of those times made me laugh. Talking shit is an artform, and arrogant Germans during a WWII movie are perfect for it. At one point I wondered if the rival German commander was going to ask Hanks to just die already, because he needed to get back to Dancentrum in Stuttgart in time to see Kraftwerk (RIP Florian Schneider, who died in May of this appalling year).
But Hanks cannot be hurried. The task will take as long as the task takes, there’s no hurrying things up. I think, based on the book by C.S Forester, that the character is meant to be devout but unsure of himself, or insecure about leading these men, or uncertain as to whether they will survive under his leadership, but in truth Hanks radiates competent calm, and every member of the crew hangs on his every utterance like it’s the word of God because they believe in God, being him. And all events, we can be reasonably sure, will go his way, even when at first they don’t.
Enough random things go wrong along the way in order to not make it seem like too easy of a cake walk. The commander, for all his good sense and expertise, cannot really keep the names of his crew straight in his head, and other than the name of his XO, or second in command, being Cole (Stephen Graham), he routinely mangles everyone else’s names. Even better, when his steward Cleveland (Rob Morgan), being the guy who prepares his coffee and meals, just for him, gets killed, and is replaced with another African-American steward, he calls him by the dead man’s name, which is, ouch, on so many levels.
Still, when he’s keeping thousands of people alive and his crew safe, we’re meant to forgive him his occasional lapses. For, you see, to be captain in such circumstances mean that not only does he have to handle the tension of not fucking up for four days, until they can get within aerial range of England, he doesn’t sleep for those four days, not trusting anyone to do his job while the stakes remain so goddamn high. He stays upright for all that time, so much so, that his feet start bleeding from being upright without pause. That is dedication. That is Dads.
That is what they bring to the table, and one of the many reasons why Dads, at least the good ones, are so loved by their kids. Just to clarify something, as if my multiple references to Dads is seen as sarcastic, considering I am a father myself: I am not a Dad, no no, not like the ones I’m referring to, to the type of Dads whose patronage is desired, and whose energy is captured here. No. I could only aspire to such greatness, and will never be able to approach that level of certainty or competence, that’s for absolute definite sure.
But I can certainly see the merits of these great Dads, and that’s why I salute them and Tom Hanks on this endeavor, for keeping me entertained for a nice and lean 90 minutes (none of this 2 hours 40 minutes bullshit like every other goddamn WWII epic). And while there aren’t nearly enough movies celebrating Mums, and too many catering to the egos and flaccid, um, preconceptions of many a (white, middle-class) manly men, I’ll graciously allow them this one. Just this once, though.
Greyhound – nothing too objectionable in it, and he should only fall asleep two or three times while watching it. Plus killer submarines!
7 times Tom Hanks will be a national treasure until the sea shall give up its dead out of 10
“I will always be looking for you, Evie. No matter where I am. Even if I’m a thousand miles away, I will be hoping I’ll see you come around the corner. Because when you do, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.” – this is the least compelling part of the film’s dialogue - Greyhound