Review: ‘Greyhound,’ starring Tom Hanks

July 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tom Hanks in “Greyhound” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“Greyhound”

Directed by Aaron Schneider

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the northern Atlantic Ocean in 1942, the World War II drama “Greyhound” has a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos in very small speaking roles) portraying military men fighting at sea.

Culture Clash: A U.S. Navy veteran must command a ship called Greyhound that is protecting 37 other ships carrying much-needed supplies through a treacherous area of the Atlantic Ocean called the Black Pit, where Nazi German U-boats are known to attack.

Culture Audience: “Greyhound” will appeal primarily to World War II enthusiasts, while everyone else might be easily bored by the generic way that this story is told.

Tom Hanks in “Greyhound” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

There have been so many movies made about World War II, that any new movie about this subject matter needs to bring something interesting and compelling in order for the story to have a memorable impact. Unfortunately for “Greyhound,” a World War II drama written by and starring Tom Hanks, this movie ends up being a formulaic and predictable vanity project for Hanks.

Sony Pictures was originally going to release “Greyhound” in cinemas. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sony shifted the movie’s release exclusively to Apple TV+, perhaps because Sony executives came to the correct conclusion that “Greyhound” (directed by Aaron Schneider) really looks like a TV-movie instead of a full cinematic experience.

In “Greyhound,” Hanks portrays the fictional Captain Ernie Krause of the U.S. Navy in such a generically stoic manner that by the end of the film, people wouldn’t be able to tell you much about his personality at all. That’s not a good sign when Captain Krause is supposed to be at the center of the story.

The way that Captain Krause is written, he’s the American hero who’s able to save everyone else because of his quick thinking and fortitude. All the other characters in the movie are written as backdrops to Captain Krause. These supporting characters are so forgettable and written in such a vague way that people watching “Greyhound” wouldn’t be able to remember the names of five characters who aren’t Captain Krause in this movie. The names of the ships in this movie are more memorable than the names of the people.

“Greyhound,” whose main action take place over five days in February 1942, is about the newly appointed Captain Krause leading his first team of ships during the war. Captain Krause’s three ships that he’s commanding are escorting a convoy of 37 Allied ships carrying soldier supplies across the Atlantic Ocean to Liverpool, England. To get there, the ships have to pass through a dangerous area called the Black Pit, where Nazi German U-boats have been known to lurk. The Black Pit is also in an area of the Atlantic Ocean that’s beyond the range of protection from aircraft that usually escorts these ships.

Krause’s ship is named Greyhound. Some of the other ships that are part of the story include two British destroyer ships named Harry and Eagle; a Canadian corvette named Dicky; a U.S. rescue ship named Cadena; and a Greek merchant ship called Despotiko. This is a very U.S.-oriented story, since the non-American characters are not actually seen on camera. Only their voices are heard, such as when Captain Krause communicates with them by the ship’s radio transmitters.

Before the Greyhound ship embarks on its journey, the movie shows a little of bit of Captain Krause’s “tough but merciful” leadership style. Two subordinates named Flusser (played by Matthew Zuk) and Shannon (played by Jeff Burkes), who’ve obviously been in a fist fight with each other, are brought to Captain Krause to be disciplined.

“I will tolerate no more fisticuffs on my ship,” Captain Krause tells them in a stern manner, like a father lecturing his sons. Captain Krause tells the two men to resolve their differences. Flusser and Shannon say that they regret the incident. And then Captain Krause utters this pretentious line as a warning to the two men: “Repetition will bring hell from down high.”

During the mission, there a lot of shouting and repeating of Captain Krause’s commands. Captain Krause’s subordinates don’t get enough screen time to make a lasting impression during the mission, except for Charlie Cole (played by Stephen Graham) and Lieutenant Nystrom (played by Matt Helm), who don’t really do much but wait for Captain Krause to give them orders.

Charlie is the one whom Krause trusts and confides in the most, but his character is written as a shell of a man who just kind of stands around as an echo chamber for Krause. These supporting characters on the Greyhound ship were not written to have distinctive personalities from each other.

And since Hanks wrote the screenplay (which is adapted from C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd”), it seems as if Hanks didn’t want to write any other characters in a way that they could possibly stand out and steal scenes from him. That’s why “Greyhound” looks like such a vanity project.

And when the inevitable happens—attacks from Nazi German U-boats—the movie’s suspense gets a lot better. But the action scenes overall are very formulaic and hold no surprises. We all know how this movie is going to end anyway.

The visual effects in “Greyhound” won’t win any awards. Some of the visuals are believable, while some are not. For example, there’s a scene where a ship gets blown up in the water. And although blood is shown in the water after the explosion, there’s no ship debris that’s shown in the bloodied water right after the explosion—as if the exploded ship just vanished into thin air. It’s an example of some of the unrealistic visuals that cheapen this movie.

Elisabeth Shue and Rob Morgan are listed as co-stars of “Greyhound,” but they really have cameos in the film that last less than 10 minutes each. Shue (the only woman with a speaking role in “Greyhound”) plays Captain Krause’s girlfriend Evelyn, nicknamed Evie. She has a brief flashback scene early in the film when Captain Krause and Evie exchange Christmas gifts in December 1941 when they meet up in a San Francisco hotel lobby.

Krause has even bought Evie a ticket to be with him in the Caribbean, where he’ll be training for his next mission. Krause tells Evie, “Come with me, so I can ask you to marry me on a tropical beach.” Evie politely declines, knowing that Krause is going into war combat, and tells him: “Let’s wait until we can be together.”

Morgan also has a thankless background role as a character name Cleveland, one of the African American subordinates on Greyhound who dress in formal waiter uniforms and serve food to Captain Krause. The only purpose these waiter characters have in the story is to fret about how Captain Krause hasn’t been eating the food that they serve him. It’s also mentioned multiple times in the film that Krause is such a brave and diligent captain during this mission that not only has he been too preoccupied to eat, he also hasn’t been sleeping either.

“Greyhound” is not a bad movie. But compared to gritty and classic World War II films such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Dunkirk,” it’s just a very disappointing and trite film, where the action and character development are far inferior to other World War II movies. “Greyhound” wastes the talent of actors such as Shue and Morgan, and it elevates Hanks’ Captain Krause character to such a lofty and squeaky-clean level that it scrubs all of the personality out of him.

Apple TV+ premiered “Greyhound” on July 10, 2020.

Review: ‘The Outpost,’ starring Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones and Orlando Bloom

July 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Caleb Landry Jones (second from right) and Scott Eastwood (far right) in “The Outpost” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“The Outpost”

Directed by Rod Lurie

Culture Representation: Based on real events and taking place in northern Afghanistan in 2009, the war drama “The Outpost” features a racially diverse (white, African American, Asian, Latino and one Native American) and almost-all male cast portraying members of the U.S. Army, Afghanistan natives and Pakistani Taliban fighters.

Culture Clash: During the war in Afghanistan, a group of U.S. Army soldiers stationed at a remote outpost come under attack by Taliban terrorists.

Culture Audience: “The Outpost” will appeal to primarily to people who like war movies that realistically portray the terrifying battles and deep emotional toll that war can take on people who fight on the front lines.

Orlando Bloom in “The Outpost” (Photo by Simon  Varsano/Screen Media Films)

Based on a true story, the effective drama “The Outpost” recreates the Afghanistan War’s Battle of Kamdesh (also known as the Battle of Outpost Keating) that took place on October 3, 2009, in such brutal and realistic detail, that some viewers watching it might feel as if they’ve gone through an emotional war zone just by seeing this movie. The battle doesn’t take place until halfway through this 123-minute movie. But by then, viewers get a sense of what life in the outpost was like for those involved before some of their lives were tragically lost.

Capably directed by Rod Lurie, “The Outpost” begins with this on-screen text to give viewers a historical view of the story in the movie: “In 2006, the U.S. Army established a series of outposts in northern Afghanistan to promote counterinsurgency. The intent was to connect with the locals and to stop the flow of weapons and Taliban fighters from Pakistan.”

One of those outposts was PRT Kamdesh, a relatively small station that was located at the bottom of a valley surrounded by the Hindu Kush Mountains. The location was remote and an easy “sitting duck” target if attackers wanted to use the mountain range as the perfect position to fire guns and bombs down below. And that’s exactly what happened when about 400 Taliban fighters ambushed the approximately 54 U.S. Army men who were stationed at the outpost.

Before that happened, the movie shows the different personalities of several of the Army men at the outpost, as well as the culture that the Army was trying to establish while these U.S. military personnel were living among Afghan civilians. There are multiple scenes of the captain of the team trying to keep the peace with an increasingly frustrated and suspicious group of locals, led by Afghan elders, who are slightly appeased when they are offered money by the U.S. military to help build schools in the area.

Paranoia and tensions run high at the outpost and the nearby communities. The U.S. soldiers capture a young Afghan man taking photos of the outpost, and they temporarily hold him for questioning. The local Afghan people consider it to be a kidnapping.

And although U.S. military men at the outpost have Afghan men helping with translating and acting as lookouts, many of the locals start to feel disrespected by the American soldiers. Some of the soldiers are arrogantly skeptical of a local Afghan man who keeps warning them that Taliban fighters will soon come to attack the outpost.

Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson adapted the movie’s screenplay from the nonfiction book “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” which was written by CNN anchor Jake Tapper. (Tapper is also one of the executive producers of “The Outpost” movie. The end of the movie also includes clips of CNN interviews that Tapper did with some of the surviving soldiers.)

There are numerous military men in the story, but some are written as more distinct than others. Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (played by Scott Eastwood) is the quintessential “good guy” soldier who, for the most part, gets along with everyone. Staff Sergeant Ty Carter (played by Caleb Landry Jones) is the group’s misfit loner.

First Lieutenant Benjamin Keating (played by Orlando Bloom) is the no-nonsense leader of the outpost. He expresses his intentions by telling his team, “We need to keep a good relationship with the locals. Respect keeps us safe.”

Another example of Keating’s leadership skills shows that he can be tough but merciful. In one scene, Keating admonishes a young soldier named Ed Faulkner (played by Will Attenborough) for smoking too much hashish.  Faulkner denies that he’s addicted to hashish, but Keating disagrees. Rather than docking Faulkner’s salary (because Keating says that money eventually doesn’t mean much to soldiers at war), Keating demotes Faulkner to the ranking of private, and tells Faulkner that this is his last chance to clean up his act.

As with any large group of people who work together, there is camaraderie and there is conflict. During the good times, the men party together and share stories of their loved ones at home. Tension-filled arguments sometimes turn into physical fights, such as when hotheaded Staff Sergeant Justin T. Gallegos (played by Jacob Scipio) angrily kicks and pushes down Private First Class Zorias Yunger (played by Alfie Stewart) for shooting bullets too close to Gallegos’ head.

And sometimes the cruelty to each other is emotional, such as when Carter is ridiculed and disrespected by some of his fellow soldiers for being a little bit of an oddball. (Carter’s eccentric ways include wearing shorts during combat.) Stephan Mace (played by Chris Born) is one of the soldiers who gives Carter a hard time.

A lot of things happen in “The Outpost” can’t be described in detail because it’s spoiler information for people who don’t know the whole story. However, it should come as no surprise that several of the men don’t make it out alive. The Taliban attack is portrayed in horrifying detail, but even among the terror, there’s a lot of inspiring bravery.

As the “misfit” Carter, Jones is the clear standout actor in the movie, particularly in the second half of the film. The dialogue in “The Outpost” isn’t very memorable, but some of the scenes were obviously written as an admirable effort to show these military men as individuals, instead of blending them all together as a generic group.

For example, there’s a sequence that shows all of the men calling home, and viewers see snippets of each and every one of their conversations. It’s a great way of showing their individuality and to give a glimpse into their personal lives. And there are small touches of humor in this serious movie, such as when a soldier holds a photo of a special female and tells another soldier that when he gets home, he can’t wait to hold and kiss her—and then it’s revealed that the female in the photo is the soldier’s dog.

Lorenzo Senatore’s immersive cinematography for “The Outpost” also makes it one of the best war movies released in 2020. In addition, the film makes a bold statement at the end by not doing the war-movie cliché conclusion of showing people being awarded medals, but instead by showing how one of the surviving heroes is wracked with survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many people skip watching the end credits of a movie, but it’s worth sticking around for all of the end credits for “The Outpost.” And for viewers who get teary-eyed during realistic war movies, it might help to have some tissues nearby.

Screen Media Films released “The Outpost” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on July 3, 2020.