Sturdy Hanks buoys lackluster ‘Greyhound’

Tom Hanks in “Greyhound” / Apple TV +

It’s hard not to like Tom Hanks. Since the 1980s, he’s made us laugh, smile, and cry like no other modern actor.

Hanks, a two-time Best Actor Oscar winner, evokes an every man quality that audiences find appealing and relatable whether he’s portraying Mr. Rogers, heroic astronaut Jim Lovell, Walt Disney, a man dying with AIDS, a mentally-challenged football- and ping pong-playing Vietnam vet, or a World War II naval commander as he does in his latest movie “Greyhound.”

Hank’s likability has that classic Hollywood feel. It’s similar to the charisma Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Gary Cooper brought to the silver screen. It doesn’t matter what the movie is about or really what type of foibles the character does or doesn’t have. We just like watching Hanks do his thing.

Hanks is the best thing “Greyhound,” which is streaming exclusively on Apple TV +, has going for it. Hanks’ guarantees we are going to pay attention to the rather ordinary yet decisive Naval Commander Ernest Krause in this adaptation of C.S. Forrester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd.”

Hanks wrote the screenplay for “Greyhound,” which tells the harrowing story of the danger United States transport ships faced from Nazi U-Boats as they ferried men and materials across the Atlantic Ocean to fight Axis alliance during World War II.

The plot is lean and somewhat suspenseful as Hanks commands his ship during a couple of submarine attacks. Director Aaron Schneider oversaw a well-shot, moody production that offers high stakes and tension.

Cinematographer Kelly Johnson captures the duress, fear, courage with a series of closeups on Hanks’ weathering face.

Again Hanks is the central point of the film as the action plays out around him. It’s an effective use of the star, but it left me with the feeling that all the other performers in the movie were expendable.

Most were unrecognizable except for Elisabeth Shue, whose small role is pivotal in explaining who Krause, a man who has put his career ahead of his personal life, is, and Stephen Graham, whom I know best from his portrayal of a young Al Capone in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” Graham plays Hanks’ executive officer Lt. Commander Charlie Cole. He’s solid in the part, but the role is more of an exposition device than an actual character.

Other than that, there’s not much to criticize in the film, save for some shoddy CGI effects, but, then again, there’s not a lot to praise either. Hanks is Hanks in the movie, but even he doesn’t have enough star power to make this war movie seem anything but ordinary. It certainly lacks the heart of movie like “Saving Private Ryan.”

The film might have been more effective on the big screen, at least the action sequences, but its producers probably did the right thing in passing this movie off to a streaming site like Apple TV+. “Greyhound” probably would feel a bit hollow no matter what size screen it was viewed on.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 31 min.
Grade: B-

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Classic Corner

Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” / Touchstone

Robin Williams would have celebrated his 69th birthday this week if not for his tragic suicide in 2014. Yes, it’s already been almost six years since his passing. It certainly doesn’t seem that long, but time does get by.

I’ve been a fan of Williams since he first burst onto the scene on the small screen as Mork from Ork in a guest shot on “Happy Days” in 1978.

Williams was such a hit on the episode that led to the Williams’ star vehicle “Mork and Mindy” the following fall. I also admired Williams for helping with financial support for his old friend Christopher Reeve, (Superman: The Movie) following the horse-riding accident which left him a quadriplegic.

Williams’ quick and sharp wit, frenetic pacing, improvisational skills, and wacky voices are the reasons why so many admired him, but also why he was a taste others never acquired.

As for me, he always made me laugh, and it’s a true tragedy that someone who could provide such a lift to others found it impossible to go on living himself. Mental illness is a cruel master.

This clip where he improvises some faux Shakespeare with Dick Cavett is a marvelous example of his talent.

Good Will Hunting

As time passes, Williams may be best remembered for his incomparable performance as the genie in Disney’s animated “Aladdin” from 1992, but to me his role as Dr. Sean Maguire in the 1997 drama ”Good “Will Hunting,” which garnered him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Williams played the therapist who worked with the lead character Will (Matt Damon), a genius with anger issues that are derailing his potential. The role is pivotal to the movie, and Williams knocks it out of the park.

Dead Poets Society

Williams’ turn as outgoing and unorthodox literature teacher John Keating in director Peter Weir’s 1989 film “Dead Poets Society” is also an excellent example of his dramatic prowess.

The film brought the latin phrase “carpe diem” — seize the day — into the collective pop culture consciousness and made poetry seem cool to a crowd that probably hadn’t thought much about the form since eighth grade. Much of the credit for that goes to Williams’ captivating and inspirational performance, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

While the movie shows that we do need to squeeze as much out of life as we can, it also poignantly shows that fairness and truth can be pushed to the side or even trampled on by the conventionality of life.

It just might be time to rewatch one or both of those movies which are a strong reminder of what pop culture lost six summers ago.