Movie reviews: 'Greyhound' a naval thriller propelled by action
GREYHOUND: 4 ½ STARS
Tom Hanks is the above the title star of “Greyhound,” a new naval thriller now streaming on Apple TV+, but the star of the film is the tension that takes hold in the first ten minutes and does not let go.
Set during the onset of the United States' involvement in the Second World War, Hanks plays Commander Ernest Krause, a stoic sailor on his first command. His mission is to lead an international convoy of 37 Allied ships across the North Atlantic with a wolfpack of German U-boats in hot pursuit. Running out of depth charges and fuel, the convoy needs air cover, which is hours away.
That’s it. “Greyhound” isn’t so much story driven as it is propelled by the action. In a breathless ninety minutes director Aaron Schneider, working from a script written by Hanks, adapted from C. S. Forester’s 1955 book “The Good Shepherd,” ratchets up tension, creating an old-fashioned action movie that mines a life and death situation for real cinematic thrills. That being said, there’s no fight scenes, you never see the face of the enemy and the only dead bodies are wrapped in linen, getting a proper burial at sea.
Inspired by the Battle of the Atlantic, the movie takes place completely on board the USS Keeling (Call sign "Greyhound"). Krause is in the ship’s claustrophobic helm for ninety percent of the running time, barking orders, peering through binoculars, making hard decisions with consequences that will affect the lives of hundreds of people.
Hanks plays Krause as a man with nerves of steel who hides his concern behind his furrowed brow. In the heat of battle every second counts and both Hanks and Schneider understand that the mental gymnastics required to do the job must be front and centre. This is a movie where the fiercest action is verbal. Sure, there’s gunfire, torpedoes and explosions, but the exciting stuff comes from Krause’s mental perspective. Never have coordinated turn equations and rudder work been this exciting.
“Greyhound” was originally set for a theatrical release. The more sweeping shots, those of the ships as specks in the vast ocean, feel like they would have benefited from the big screen treatment, but the story, driven by intellect, the effectiveness of team effort, and old-fashioned thrills, works well in any format.
THE OLD GUARD: 2 ½ STARS
“The Old Guard,” a new superhero flick starring Charlize Theron on Netflix, has the earmarks of an action flick, but brings the genre kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century by focusing the story on not just one, but two female characters.
Theron channels the dark side that made her characters in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Atomic Blonde” so compelling. She’s Andy, a tough-as-nails immortal mercenary with the power to heal herself, no matter how deep the wound.
“She has devised more ways to kill than entire armies will ever know,” says unkillable sidekick, and former soldier for Napoleon, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts). For centuries they have fought the good fight—depending on which side you take—along with Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), sticking up for the maltreated and oppressed. “Through history, we’ve protected this world,” says Andy, “fighting in the shadows.”
In modern day they come across Nile (KiKi Layne), a Marine who shares their “extremely rare skillset.” “She stabbed me,” Andy says admiringly, “I think she has potential.”
Nile is the first of their kind they have come across since 1812 and soon they recruit her to join their ranks. “You haven’t figured this out yet?” Andy asks her. “You can’t die.” At the same time a mad-scientist big pharma type (Harry Melling) sets his sights on them as lab rats in his experiments to find a cure for death. “If we can unlock their genetic code, the entire world will be begging us for the key.”
“The Old Guard” is an action film, with carefully staged and exciting fight scenes, but first and foremost it’s a set-up for a franchise. Like an action-packed trailer for a movie it teases the possibility of the next film. The origin story is talky, illustrated by flashbacks, while the main plot is resolved quickly in a hail of bullets and a few swings of an axe. Then the set up begins, as they hint at further adventures. Trouble is, I’m not sure “The Old Guard’s” appeal is as immortal as its characters.
Theron and Layne are strong characters who deliver in the fist-to-the-face action department, but the movie doesn’t let them shine. As mentioned, the fight scenes are well staged but their relationship is never fully developed. Everyone, except for Melling who appears amped up on something he didn’t share with the rest of the cast, is on a slow simmer which gives the movie a laid-back vibe which doesn’t spark interest.
“The Old Guard” does a good thing by placing two women at the center of an action movie but the all-set-up all-the-time script doesn’t do the characters or the movie any favors.
FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS: 3 ½ STARS
Another entry in the Real-Life-Underdog-Brits-Overcoming-Adversity genre of movies—think “The Full Monty,” “Calendar Girls” and more recently “Military Wives”—“Fisherman’s Friends,” now on VOD, is a good-natured crowd pleaser with some deep laughs but no major surprises.
Daniel Mays is Danny, a “proper bigshot” London music biz executive, on a quick weekend get-a-way with some mates in Port Isaac in Cornwall. They are fish out of water in the village. The locals poke fun at their city-slicker ways, treating them like outsiders. “We have our ways down here,” Jim (James Purefoy) warns Danny, “and once you cross the River Tamar you’re not in England anymore. We’re a land apart. You get my drift, son?”
After hearing a local group of fishermen, led by Jim, Jago (David Hayman) and Leadville (Dave Johns), singing a cappella sea shanties Danny’s pals jokingly convince him that he should sign the band to a record contract. He’s skeptical at first, but there’s something about the music that speaks to his soul. But first, he has to persuade the fishermen who are suspicious of his motives. “We have no need to sell our souls for fifteen minutes of fame,” Jim tells him.
His friends can’t believe he fell for the joke. “Do you really think we’d sign a boy band with the combined age of 643?”
But, convinced the public will want to see real people with real talent communicating 500 years of naval history, Danny perseveres. “In a world saturated with manufactured pop bands,” he says, “the fishermen are a real catch.” Plus, he’s fallen for life in the village and Jim’s daughter Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton).
The story of the band’s success is almost stranger than fiction. In real life The Fisherman's Friends “buoy band” signed a contract with Island Records and their debut went on to become the biggest selling traditional folk album of all time.
“Fisherman’s Friends” keeps the bones of the real story but amps up the big emotional moments. The highs soar and the lows have a heartfelt sentimentality. None of it quite feels like reality but by the time the end credits roll it’s clear that Port Isaac in Cornwall is a nice place to visit for 115 minutes.
“Fisherman’s Friends” is formulaic, clearly manipulative, and any sense of subtlety was clearly cut adrift around the second draft of the script but the story’s feel-good underdog story mixed with innate messages of decency and loyalty make it as refreshing as a gust of sea air in our cynical times. “We stick together down here,” Says Jago. “One and all. That’s the difference between sinking or swimming in a place like this.” A good message, even when delivered with a heavy hand.
WHITE RIOT: 4 STARS
The cultural, moral and emotional impact that music has is undeniable. Songs like “Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)," and “What’s Going On” or events like Live Aid or The Concert for Bangladesh brought with them societal change by mobilizing music fans to action. “White Riot,” new documentary from director Rubika Shah streaming on Virtual Cinema Screening sites (see below), details the fight between Rock Against Racism and Britain’s National Front.
In the macro the film’s story is set against the rise of xenophobic politician Enoch Powell and violent, far-right hate group the National Front. Language that would get anyone kicked off Twitter or cancelled today was casually tossed around in the papers and on television. In one inspired sequence Shah pieces together a montage of outrageous racist remarks pulled from mainstream sitcoms.
In August 1976 guitarist Eric Clapton, whose entire career was based on the elements of blues created by Black American musicians, added his voice to the rhetoric, endorsing Powell from a stage in a drunken rant.
“I think Enoch’s right,” he said. “I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a Black colony. Get the foreigners out."
His comments caught the attention of music photographer Red Saunders who wrote a letter to the music press, calling for rock to be a force against racism. Bigtime outlets like NME, Melody Maker and Sounds all published the letter. The resulting and overwhelming response from like-minded Brits inspired Saunders to create the grassroots movement, Rock Against Racism (RAR) and a fanzine, Temporary Hoarding geared toward reporting on the stories the mainstream press ignored.
“Our job,” Saunders says, “was to peel away the Union Jack to reveal the swastika.”
Their reports on immigration and the police’s racist “suspected persons” powers among other hot button topics appealed to a generation of young people who embraced new ideas politically and musically, in the form of rebel music, punk rock and reggae.
Despite violent resistance from the National Front RAR persevered and “White Riot” ends, not at the end of Rock Against Racism’s mandate—they remained a potent force until 1982—but with their first massive public outing, 1978’s Carnival Against the Nazis. Headlined by The Clash, Steel Pulse and Tom Robinson, it attracted 100,000 people who began marching a march at Trafalgar Square, before the concert at Victoria Park.
“White Riot” pieces together archival footage, like unsettling shots of National Front supporters parading through London, recent interviews with the main RAR players and piles of ephemera, like old gig posters, punk badges and photos, to define the film’s time and place. Shah weaves the elements together, punctuating the info with sonic blasts of music courtesy of live footage of The Clash, The Selecter, Sham 69, Steel Pulse and others.
It is compelling stuff and even though it details a time more than forty years ago it doesn’t feel dated. Racism and rise of neo-fascism are still with us but “White Riot” reminds the viewer that resistance not only comes in many forms but that fighting the good fight is never out of date.
“White Riot” is a Virtual Cinema presentation benefitting independent movie theatres. Check out the websites for the theatres listed below, buy a ticket for $9.99 (CND), and enjoy the show while supporting a worthwhile case.
Cinematheque, The (Vancouver, BC) 09-Jul-2020 30-Jul-2020
Countryfest Community Cinema (Dauphin, MB) 09-Jul-2020 30-Jul-2020
Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema (Toronto, ON) 09-Jul-2020 30-Jul-2020
Winnipeg Cinematheque (Winnipeg, MB) 09-Jul-2020 30-Jul-2020
Cinema du Parc (Montreal, QC) In Cinema Screening 10-Jul-2020 16-Jul-2020
VOLITION: 3 ½ STARS
James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is a young man with extra sensory perception, but is it an ability or an affliction? That is the question asked in “Volition,” a new thriller now on VOD.
“They say when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes,” James says in the opening minutes of the movie. “I wish it were that simple.” It’s a signal of sorts to the viewer that nothing in the next ninety minutes is going to be simple or follow the accepted rules.
James, a clairvoyant, makes his money using his insight into the future and doing odd jobs for local crime outfits. On one such job, involving a load of stolen diamonds and a gangster named
Ray (John Cassini), James intuits a bad end for the caper and himself. With the help of a stranger, Angela (Magda Apanowicz), he tries to find a path to alter the future and his fate.
“Volition” is a mix-and-match of speculative fiction and neo-noir crime drama. Driven by ideas rather than special effects, it favors intellect over action, philosophy over fisticuffs. There are tense scenes and gun play but, like movies such as “Looper” or “Next,” it uses time as an ever fluctuating, nonlinear construct.
The bending of the sequence of time makes for some heady filmmaking but the story never allows itself to get lost amid the twists and turns. Director Tony Dean Smith, who co-wrote the script with brother Ryan W. Smith, teases out the thrills and the head-scratching in equal measure, making for a film made up of fragments, to come together to form one fascinating mosaic.