By Leah Greenblatt
July 06, 2020 at 03:14 PM EDT
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In this crazy mixed-up world, there are still at least some things we can be sure of: death, taxes, and the sturdy, twinkling durability of Tom Hanks. COVID-19 couldn’t take him; even shuttered multiplexes are apparently no match for America's First Mate.

Take Greyhound, the kind of prestige drama that in any other year you’d never expect to see first on a platform like Apple TV+: A terse, breathless thriller inspired by one of WWII’s most legendary showdowns, starring Hanks — who also adapted the script from C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel The Good Shepherd — as the Navy captain whose steely resolve is the only thing standing between hell and high water.

Could there be a more fitting choice to play the man whose near-impossible job it was to carry an Allied convoy safely across the North Atlantic, with a fleet of German U-boats in hot pursuit? That his (fictionalized) name is Ernest hardly seems like a coincidence; he’s decent to the core, a man who loves his girl (Elisabeth Shue in a brief, soft-focus cameo), his God, and his country with a steadfastness that borders on saintliness.

If certain elements of Tom the Hero feel familiar by now — the furrowed brow, the quiet strength — director Aaron Schneider (Get Low) takes care to strip down nearly everything around him. The vast majority of the story takes place onboard the USS Keeling (call sign Greyhound), with all the claustrophobia and vastness that implies: cramped, panicky quarters; grey and roiling seas.

Niko Tavernise/TriStar Pictures

There’s a lot of brusque nautical talk, sudden force, and only a little sentiment. Even its most rattling moments of violence tend to happen at some remove — secondary to the grim, methodical work of radar tracking and scrawled-out coordinates. (Rarely has the swooping arc of a protractor on paper signaled the line between life and death for so many.)

For a certain subset of dads — drunk on Dunkirk, still high on 1917Greyhound will no doubt be catnip, Hanks himself after all being Dad über alles. Even more explicitly than those recent films, the movie comes bathed in Greatest Generation sheen, nearly every frame radiating a sort of eagle's-eye nobility undimmed by scheming Krauts.

Like them too, though, it largely forsakes backstory and deeper characterizations for the sweeping theater of war. The sailors surrounding Ernest, save his right-hand man Charlie (Boardwalk Empire's Stephen Graham), are mostly young and terrified, and vaguely interchangeable. At a brisk 80 minutes there's hardly time to allow much more for anyone, even the great Rob Morgan (Just Mercy, Stranger Things) whose loyal mess-hall steward never quite gets the chance to transcend his heavy symbolism.

Instead, the movie maps its course by Hanks' steady hand: A ship moving swiftly and with sure purpose — compelled by death and danger, but safe in the certainty of history. B+

Greyhound arrives on Apple TV+ July 10.

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