Tom Hanks in ‘Greyhound’

A certain fascination lies in finding out what someone chooses to do when they can do whatever they like. Take the occasional scriptwriting career of Tom Hanks, whose movie star capital fast-tracks his screenplays through the greenlight. Past results have included the mid-life trifle Larry Crowne (2011). Now Hanks multitasks as writer and leading man of Greyhound, a second world war naval drama of straight-ahead aspect. The film is adapted from C.S. Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd, published in 1955. Strip out the slick visuals and it could have been made the same year, a sturdy alternative to The Man From Laramie or Oklahoma!

The pinning down of setting — February 1942, the north Atlantic — suggests a biopic or single turning point in wartime history. Not quite on either score. The backdrop is the Battle of the Atlantic, the long, grindingly attritional campaign for supremacy at sea. Hanks’s character, meanwhile, is fictional — US captain Ernest Krause, leading an Allied convoy at the helm of a destroyer. A deeply Hanksish role, Krause is a particular kind of hero, a phlegmatic navy lifer only now given his first command. The crew aren’t told that, of course. Even so, they swap uncertain glances at his stutters of indecision, a “wolf pack” of German U-boats attacking. What follows is nothing if not adrenalising, doubling as a study in management technique.

The director is Aaron Schneider, but Hanks’s script calls the shots. The most telling choices — timeless or dated, according to taste — are made in the writing, from the taunts of a U-boat captain to the preface of a San Francisco rendezvous with the glamorous Evie (Elisabeth Shue, underused), Krause’s marriage proposal rejected, monogrammed slippers given in return. At sea, dialogue is stripped back to white-knuckle matters of geometry sent down the chain of command to save or doom the ship, madly atilt while torpedoes streak towards it.

If the film is Hanks’s baby, it also belongs to Apple TV+, the streaming operation having bought the rights from Sony for $70m. The star has made vocal his displeasure at the scaled-down fate of the movie and it’s true that Schneider shoots for the big screen both in battle scenes and grand vistas of moonlight, fire and sea. He finds room for a fleeting grace note too — the camera levitating up into the Northern Lights, a breath of the otherworldly before descent back into the world of men and movie stars.

★★★☆☆

On Apple TV+ from Friday July 10

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