Greyhound, a Tom Hanks movie about an ill-fated destroyer captain trying to protect merchant ships from German U-boats in World War II, isn’t terrible because it’s historically loose and absurdly indifferent to realism. Actual World War II submarine combat would be a snooze-fest for people who watch Tom Hanks movies. Even more boring would be the perspective of the destroyer, which drives around and listens to the ocean and sometimes hucks giant bombs into the water. Destroyers aren’t even the ones getting shot at. So no one can blame a filmmaker for wanting to Hollywood it up a little, with submarines and destroyers firing broadsides at each other as if they were in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. With U-boats with actual wolves painted on their conning towers. With German captains prank calling the Allies to make wolf howling noises. Because wolf packs, you see. Not every submarine movie can be Das Boot, and not every submarine movie should be.
It’s also not terrible because Hanks seems to be phoning it in. He spends most of the movie passing orders down a chain of command, often over a literal phone. I suspect he’s trying to sound officious when relaying messages, but he instead sounds like someone doing a bad imitation of how robots are supposed to talk. That Mr. Rogers movie must have really taken it out of him. But Hanks’ flat performance actually works in the context of the movie, because this isn’t Sully. This is a guy who seems like he’s not very good at his job. Regardless of the historical incident, Greyhound portrays its hero as someone uncertain and morose who’d rather be somewhere else as German subs kill all his dudes. We can infer from some unnecessary scenes with Elizabeth Shue as his…daughter?…oops, nope, I called that wrong. We can infer from Elizabeth Shue as his soon-to-be-bethrothed where that somewhere else might be. The script does wag its finger at some plucky British destroyer captains who have a tendency to wander off, but it mostly comes down to a guy who can’t control his fleet and feels really bad about it. No wonder he talks like a robot.
What makes Greyhound a terrible movie is that it has no sense of how to be a movie. It has no structure. It is a series of poorly shot and edited action sequences, all indistinguishable from each other, separated only by brief scenes of Tom Hanks forgetting breakfast or being kind to a seaman or asking for his slippers. Then it’s right back to a bunch of random swooping CG of ships breaking through the waves shooting at something, intercut with Tom Hanks giving an order, quick shots of markings on navigational charts, and sometimes a little screentime for one of the younger actors to look scared or confused. Dramatic music explains that this is all very exciting, very tense. But because Greyhound has no idea how to tie it all together, and most conspicuously no idea how to integrate CG with live action, it just feels like a rough cut of a pitch for a movie. If you’re going to Hollywood it up, you have to know how to Hollywood.