Not only does Tom Hanks star in this Apple Original as the harassed captain of a second World War American destroyer, he also wrote the screenplay, basing it on C. S. Forester’s classic novel, The Good Shepherd.
Hanks plays Captain Ernest Krause, charged with the monumental task of leading a huge supply convoy across the Atlantic, carrying much-needed provisions for the allied war effort. Krause knows that every man on the ship is looking to him for leadership and he’s also painfully aware that, beneath those restless waves, German U boats are waiting in ambush with the aim of sinking as many ships as possible. The pressure is palpable.
It’s evident from the start that formidable amounts of money have been lavished on this production. The depictions of life aboard ship are queasily authentic and there’s no denying the steadily mounting suspense that’s generated whenever a torpedo is launched in the general direction of Krause’s ship, The Greyhound. The shock and awe of naval warfare is brilliantly replicated, too, but that dogged dedication to authenticity makes everything a bit too technical for comfort, with Krause’s every directive being repeated ad infinitum by various members of his crew.
If there’s a major failing here, it stems from the fact that we learn precious little about any of the characters in the story. All we really know about Krause is that he prays every morning and that he never has time to eat. The excellent Stephen Graham, second-billed here as the ship’s navigator, has little opportunity to strut his stuff, while the equally excellent Elizabeth Shue, briefly glimpsed in a couple of flashbacks, has even less.
It’s clear that in his screenplay, Hanks wants to concentrate on the notion that the exploits of real heroes are largely unsung: that courage often comes from the most quiet and unassuming people – but the problem is, this leaves me wanting more than this film is ultimately able to deliver. It’s hard to care about people you don’t know and no amount of weaponry can ever hope to make up for that deficit.
There are admittedly some lovely details – a scene where Krause quietly removes his blood-stained shoes and puts on a pair of carpet slippers is strangely moving – and I like the moment when he unwittingly calls a member of his crew by the name of the man’s predecessor, recently killed in action – but such moments are not quite enough to make this cinematic vessel suitably seaworthy.
Don’t get me wrong. This film doesn’t exactly sink without trace, but the beating heart of the story is, sadly, missing in action.