Sr. Nancy Usselmann, FSP, reviews a World War II movie that describes the challenges and intensity of a 6-year military campaign.
I learned to watch war movies with my father and read stories of the heroism of those willing to defy all odds in the midst of intense human struggle. I was especially intrigued by the stories of World War II — the world literally at battle with the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan. My personal reading and cinematic experience led me to the beaches of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, Dunkirk, and across the world to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, the battle of Midway and POW camps in Japan. Very rarely have I come upon a story that describes the challenges and intensity of the longest continuous military campaign during World War II, the naval Battle of the North Atlantic, which stretched from 1939 to 1945 when Germany surrendered.
The AppleTV+ film, Greyhound, does just that. Releasing July 10 and starring Tom Hanks who also wrote the screenplay based on the book The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester and directed by Aaron Schneider, the film brings to life the dangers that lurked in the dark waters of the Atlantic. This film is the latest work from Hanks’ Playtone Productions with fellow producer Gary Goetzman on a military script that shows how ordinary people rise to the occasion in extraordinary ways. They collaborated with Steven Spielberg in Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
With the realistic CGI recreation of the open ocean battle scenes, the film focuses on the deeply religious but self-doubting Captain Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks), a longtime Navy officer passed over numerous times for promotion who finally receives his first command of the USS Keeling, codename Greyhound. This destroyer was the leader of four US battleships that were to escort 37 merchant and supply ships from the US to England in early 1942, just after the US entered the war. This sharing of troops and supplies comes from the collaboration of President Roosevelt with Prime Minister Churchill to support England in the European theater. These convoys leaving the US receive air support only to a certain point before the planes turn back, so the ships continue on a long 5-day stretch on the part of the open sea known as the “Black Pit,” before air escorts could reach them from England. In these waters German U-boats lurked and eventually sank more than 3500 vessels with the loss of over 72,000 lives. U-boats were fast and often undetectable and traveled in wolf packs.
Krause’s spirituality is expressed throughout the film, which opens with Krause kneeling by his cot in his Captain’s quarters on the ship praying, “Dear Lord, may your holy angel be with me. That the evil foe have no power over me.” His prayerfulness gives him not only a recognition that his authority comes from God but that every human being, friend and foe, is a human being with an immortal soul. This becomes especially clear when after sinking his first U-boat at close range one of the seamen congratulates him on the 50 less Germans in the war. He instead responds and bemoans the loss of those 50 souls.
As the convoy completes its first two days of their trek into the “Black Pit,” U-boats begin to reek havoc on the convoy. When distress signals flare up, Krause coolly and collectedly calls out orders with such dexterity and precision showing his expert capability when in command. Taunted by the German commander, Krause shuts off the radio receiver in order to consciously collect his thoughts to outmaneuver the German mind. In an intense hour of a continuous battle, the only interruption comes when after being struck at the stern, losing four men, the entire ship is put on pause as they salute their fallen comrades with a sea burial. Krause leads a prayer service for the fallen seamen only to resume immediately afterwards his command position unknowingly ready to face the most challenging 24 hours of his life and those of his men.
After more than 47 hours of incalculable stress dodging torpedoes and shouting out continuous commands, Krause retires to his cabin to rest only after kneeling to pray in gratitude to God for a safe delivery through the treacherous Atlantic.
Hanks delivers a flawless visual image of a captain on a wartime battleship; however, I only wished his character was developed with a bit more screen time, being that the film was only about 90 minutes. The scene from two months prior of him with his girlfriend and intended wife Evelyn (Elizabeth Shue), exchanging Christmas gifts, leaves too much unsaid and unknown. Only readers of the book would understand his late-in-life romance and personal insecurities. The movie is definitely more about the actual battle experience, but the lack of the human element in the story left me emotionless and disconnected from the characters.
The film leaves me wondering: What would I do in this situation? The human will to survive and overcome impossible odds is what keeps me enthralled with wartime stories. I return again and again seeking that bit of inspiration to give me the gumption to face life’s daily challenges. These stories, like Greyhound, give me hope. They make my spirit soar believing that we can overcome. And when the lead character relies on God as truly their higher power, then their leadership and principles are grounded not in their own abilities but in God’s will to use them as His instrument. Captain Ernest Krause did that and is an example to me and anyone encountering this story of someone who understands that authority only comes from One who is beyond any human authority. He could rise up to the occasion with the conviction that only God is really the One in charge.
So, if you like war films like I do, this is another one to add to your list. Not only does it fill in the historical gaps of wartime understanding, but it also, and perhaps more importantly, inspires one to greatness in the eyes of God.
Copyright 2020 Sr. Nancy Usselmann, FSP
Images: © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
First published on BeMediaMindful.org
About the Author
Sr. Nancy Usselmann, FSP is a Daughter of St Paul and the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles, CA. She is a Media Literacy Education Specialist, theologian, international speaker, film reviewer, and blogger for BeMediaMindful.org. Her book A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics is a theology of popular culture published by Wipf & Stock Publishing.