I’M THE COM­MAN­DER NOW

Tom Hanks’ lat­est WWII movie gets bogged down in de­tails of war­fare at sea

Chicago Sun-Times - - WEEKEND PLUS - RICHARD ROEPER rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

Tom Hanks writes, stars as a Navy of­fi­cer in mud­dled WWII drama ‘Grey­hound’

We are in a posh ho­tel lobby in San Fran­cisco, De­cem­ber 1941 — just weeks af­ter the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor. Cmdr. Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks), USN, in full uni­form, springs up when his beloved Evie (Elis­a­beth Shue) en­ters. Evie gazes up at the an­gel on the Christ­mas tree, and then their eyes meet, and she comes to him.

Ernest tells Evie he’ll be as­signed to Ja­maica, the Ba­hamas and Cuba for train­ing be­fore ac­tive duty, and he asks Evie to ac­com­pany him to the Caribbean so he can pro­pose to her on a beach. Evie says she’d love to — but they should wait to marry un­til af­ter the war, so they can truly be to­gether.

This early scene in the World War II ac­tion drama “Grey­hound” is … prob­lem­atic. Even though the 64-year-old Hanks and the 56-year-old Shue look amaz­ing, we can’t help but won­der: What’s the story with th­ese two characters? They look like a cou­ple who have been to­gether for 30 years, but they’re just now in the courtship stage?

Spoiler alert: “Grey­hound” never re­turns to the half-hearted ro­man­tic sub­plot, as we spend the re­main­der of the movie aboard the U.S.S. Keel­ing, a Navy de­stroyer lead­ing a con­voy of 37 Al­lied ships across the ocean as part of the Bat­tle of the At­lantic, which waged from 1939 to 1945 and was the long­est mil­i­tary cam­paign of WWII. Un­for­tu­nately, de­spite the no-doubt hon­or­able in­ten­tions of writer-star Hanks and di­rec­tor Aaron Sch­nei­der, “Grey­hound” re­lies far too much on slick but ob­vi­ous and over­done CGI and gets bogged down in the minu­tiae and jar­gon of naval wartime ma­neu­ver­ings at the ex­pense of viewer ac­ces­si­bil­ity and char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment. (Not to men­tion some bat­tle scenes are ren­dered through such a dark fil­ter, it’ll give flash­back night­mares to cer­tain “Game of Thrones” fans.)

A se­ries of open­ing ti­tle cards sets the stage for this story, which is in­spired by true-life events but is ac­tu­ally based on the 1955 novel “The Good Shep­herd” by C.S. Forester. “Con­voys of ships car­ry­ing troops and sup­plies to Great Bri­tain were cru­cial to the Al­lied war ef­fort,” the tale be­gins, as the in­tru­sive, anachro­nis­tic, Michael Bay-es­que score starts pound­ing away at our sen­si­bil­i­ties (and rarely lets up through­out the movie). “The con­voys were most vul­ner­a­ble to U-Boats when be­yond the range of air cover, in the mid­dle of the At­lantic, in the area known as ‘The Black Pit.’ ” From time to time there­after, graph­ics are em­ployed to re­flect com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween air es­corts and ships, be­tween ships, etc., and also to iden­tify var­i­ous ships and subs we see from a dis­tance. It’s as if the film­mak­ers re­al­ized they’re de­liv­er­ing a mud­dled ef­fort and they’re do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to help us un­der­stand what’s tran­spir­ing.

Hanks’ Krause is a po­ten­tially com­plex char­ac­ter, given we learn this is his very first com­mand at an age when most of his peers are re­tir­ing. We know he’s a man of faith be­cause he pauses for a silent prayer be­fore ev­ery meal, no mat­ter how chaotic the sur­round­ing cir­cum­stances. (It’s a run­ning theme that the ded­i­cated and seem­ingly in­de­fati­ga­ble Krause never ac­tu­ally con­sumes a meal, in­stead opt­ing to gulp down an­other cup of cof­fee be­fore re­sum­ing his com­mand.) But we never find out why it took the Navy so long to en­trust Krause with a ship, or why he is per­haps too com­pas­sion­ate and un­der­stand­ing when his men make some­times fa­tal mis­takes. Krause re­mains an enigma to the very end — and yet he’s a fully re­al­ized, three­d­i­men­sional char­ac­ter com­pared to the in­ter­change­able sup­port­ing play­ers in “Grey­hound.” There are times when Krause calls an un­der­ling by the wrong name, and we can see where he’s coming from be­cause we, too, haven’t got­ten to know that guy.

Hanks’ com­mit­ment to hon­or­ing the he­roes of World War II through his cre­ative part­ner­ship with Steven Spiel­berg is leg­endary, from “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan’ to “Band of Brothers” to “The Pa­cific.” They have teamed up to make one of the best movies and two of the best minis­eries ever about the sec­ond World War. (A third WWII minis­eries from the duo, ti­tled “Masters of the Air,” is re­port­edly bound for stream­ing on Ap­ple TV+). But while “The Grey­hound” pays great at­ten­tion to de­tail and feels au­then­tic, es­pe­cially in the claus­tro­pho­bic and in­tense scenes in the bow­els of the ship, the bat­tle se­quences that look like some­thing straight out of a video game dom­i­nate the movie and keep us at a safe dis­tance from get­ting emo­tion­ally in­volved on a level this story de­serves.

AP­PLE TV+

Cmdr. Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) over­sees a U.S. Navy de­stroyer lead­ing an Al­lied naval con­voy across the At­lantic Ocean in “Grey­hound.”

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