Midway through the movie “Greyhound,” there’s a spectacular image that all but takes your breath away. As a sea battle between destroyers escorting an Allied convoy and Nazi U-boats plays out, flares eerily illuminate a scene of exploding ships and shellfire. The perspective gradually rises above the cloud cover and looks down on the conflict as the Northern Lights glow in the distance.
Sure, it’s CGI. And it looks great on TV. But it would have looked absolutely amazing on a big screen in a movie theater.
That, however, is not the world in which we live these days. Which is why “Greyhound” starts streaming Friday on Apple TV+.
Sony Pictures scheduled a March 22 release date for Tom Hanks’ passion project — he wrote the screenplay in addition to starring in the movie — but that was canceled when the coronavirus pandemic shut down theaters. “Greyhound” was pushed back to May 8 and then June 12, but theaters still weren’t open, for the most part.
So Sony sold the movie to Apple TV+ for a reported $70 million, about $20 million more than “Greyhound” cost to produce. Not a bad deal for the studio.
But Hanks wasn’t happy about that. In an interview with The Guardian, he called releasing “Greyhound” on Apple TV+ “an absolute heartbreak.” And, he added, “I don’t mean to make angry my Apple overlords, but there is a difference in picture and sound quality.”
He was right, of course. I’d argue that most of the great drama and great comedy these days is on the small screen, not the big one. But it’s inarguable that the visuals in a movie like “Greyhound” just don’t have the same impact in your living room that they’d have in a movie theater.
I don’t care if you’ve got a 70-inch TV and you’re sitting 3 feet in front of it. It’s just not the same.
But that doesn’t mean “Greyhound” isn’t worth watching. And Hanks — who completely deserves his image as one of the nicest men in Hollywood — backtracked a couple of days later on NBC’s “Today Show.”
“This is a magnificent gift that’s come to us because of Apple,” he said. “Apple television has saved the day for us. We had a magnificent movie that was not going to be seen because of the realities.”
For 91 minutes, the taut WWII film will make you forget the current national crisis by transporting you to 1942.
Based on the novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester, it’s set shortly after the United States enters the war. Hanks stars as Commander Ernest Krause, a career Navy officer who captains the destroyer U.S.S. Keeling (code name Greyhound) and leads a convoy of 37 ships — troop carriers, oil tankers, supply ships — across the North Atlantic.
The story isn’t factual, but the situation is true to life. Aircraft of the era didn’t have the range to protect ships all the way from North America to the U.K., so the convoy had to sail through treacherous, U-boat infested waters for days with just four destroyers to protect three dozen other ships.
“Greyhound” is sort of a mirror image of a submarine movie. As opposed to the crew of a cramped submarine trying to sink the enemy and survive depth charges, this is about the crew of a destroyer battling a wolfpack of U-boats, trying not just to survive the torpedoes but to prevent any of the other ships from being sunk.
Working from Hanks’ script, director Aaron Schneider creates palpable tension that drags viewers inside.
“Greyhound” is all about the stress and not so much about the characters. Hanks’ character — a decent, religious man who does his best against terrible odds — is really the only one who’s developed. His crew members perform their duties and that’s about it, and a brief appearance by his wife (Elisabeth Shue) before he sets sail is designed to establish Krause as a good family man.
The Germans never appear at all, although we hear one of them taunting the Americans over the radio.
The look and the feel of “Greyhound” are authentic. Much of the filming took place on the U.S.S. Kidd, the only surviving U.S. destroyer from that era that remains in its WWII configuration. (It’s now a museum ship in Louisiana.)
“Greyhound” is a high-stress adventure more than it is a drama. And it does what it sets out to do without much in the way of filler.
It’s certainly worth the $4.99 that a month of Apple TV+ costs.