Any war film needs to be made with care and compassion for the subject matter, or be forever doomed to abject failure and possible contempt for lack of sensitivity.
There is no question Tom Hanks as both screenwriter and central character “Captain Krause” in this passion project, clearly meets this first crucial criteria.
First hurdle overcome, is the film any good?
Hanks plays yet another Captain, placing himself in charge of a convoy of WW2 merchant ships bound for Liverpool, in the midst of the Battle of the Atlantic. The convoys represent an essential lifeline, supplying goods, food and fuel for a ration-starved England.
As the convoy moves deeper into the North Atlantic, they enter the “Black Pit” where they lose air cover, leaving unarmed merchant ships at the mercy of German U-Boats, often hunting in packs. On a scale of good ways to die, drowning in a freezing ocean after being torpedoed without warning in the dark, would rate low, very low indeed.
Aided by “Charlie Cole” (Stephen Graham), Krause captains the destroyer USS Keeling (whose radio call sign is “Greyhound”), as he attempts to ward off U-Boat attacks, bringing home as many ships and souls as possible. At this point of the war, losing none is impossible, limiting losses is the only hope.
The film focuses almost exclusively on Krause, issuing orders as he calculates numerous vectors and angles, aided by glitchy sonar. Life and death decisions are his constant companion for several days, without sleep or much food. Despite extensive training, this is his first crossing command, a fact known later in the film, betraying his apparent confidence in dealing with impossible decisions.
The film is relatively short and fails to provide much character development, arguably short changing the audience when tragedy does arrive. Intricate focus on the technical aspects of orders, commands and U-Boat detection take precedence over any back story.
Based on the book “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester, the film tones down the religious and internal monologue musings of the central character, which somewhat mars the printed story. As anyone would expect, Hanks is as good as ever, adding yet another believable character to his diverse filmography.
Bearing in mind most of the film is VFX enhanced/created, the scenes are incredibly realistic. Effective CGI and sound effects simulating the feeling of being in the deep ocean, renders it difficult to believe no actual water was involved. The constant threat and dread of the circling U-Boats is convincingly conveyed, with impending British-based air cover support adding a countdown timer to the film.
It’s possible the story could have been expanded, allowing more character development and a respite from the constant chaos, with a few more quiet scenes. Although, as it stands compressing the action into just a few short hours with minimal knowledge of the crew, would have occurred in reality.
Vintage Tom Hanks, in every sense. Proving that whatever CGI may be required to create the environment, he remains the main draw.
A well made war film, representing a worthwhile watch and fitting tribute to those who served.
Streaming on Apple TV