If, as is so often said, Tom Hanks is America's Dad, it makes perfect sense that he would, at some point, have to be involved in an American Dad Movie. And, of course, he already has, but in the case of Greyhound, his role was far more active than in such dad movies par excellence as Captain Phillips and Sully. Hanks was so invested in the story of Greyhound that he wrote it, adapting C.S. Forester's 1955 novel The Good Shepherd all by himself (or, anyways, the other people who helped write it aren't given onscreen credit). This is, mind you, only third feature screenplay Hanks has ever written, following the 1996 nostalgic pop music comedy That Thing You Do!, and that Larry Crowne movie that I don't think anybody actually saw. This is a project near and dear to America's Dad's heart, I mean to say, and it is absolutely the kind of film that a Dad would write.

It's about the convoys of supply ships crisscrossing the Atlantic during World War II, and the escorts of destroyers protecting them from German U-boats. It's not about characters or even its own specific narrative, so much, though it at least tries to put up a good show: Hanks plays Commander Krause of the USS Keeling (which has the radio callsign "Greyhound"), a senior officer who has no wartime experience, but has anyway been put in charge of one of these convoys, in the weeks following the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war. This has come at a great cost to his personal life, causing his girlfriend Evelyn (Elisabeth Shue) to gently suggest that they should wait until his safe return to continue making any plans for the future. Having read this backstory into the record, in the form of a rather confusingly-motivated flashback (confusing in that we have not yet established a "present" to flash back from), Hanks appears to assume that's all the character work he needs to do with Krause, either as a writer or an actor. There really aren't any other emotional stakes for the rest of the film: Krause is really there just to serve as the taciturn, nucleus around which the rest of the military activity in the film pivots. He has doubts and confusions but does not let this subordinate officers see this, nor does he dawdle in making competent, correct decisions about how best to deal with the various situations that crop up, especially as the convoy starts to be beset by a very persistent U-boat called Grey Wolf, whose captain (Thomas Kretschmann) keeps calling Krause to mock and threaten him. You know, as U-boat captains playing cat-and-mouse with several American and British destroyers would be wont to do.

It's a melodramatic touch that stands out only because Greyhound is so powerfully allergic to drama, melo- or otherwise. This is a film all about process and military decision-making, putting us into the day-to-day operations aboard the Keeling without really pretending that it wants to string those together into a narrative flow of events. The film divides itself into chunks using title cards that situate us precisely in time, both in terms of the calendar, and the duration of the mission; it has the distinct effect of making the film feel a bit like a series of log entries. Today we had this specific to problem, here's how we solved it. Today we had this problem... and so on and so forth.

This gives the film an almost blissful lack of purpose. It is an extraordinarily easy film to watch, since it very quickly becomes clear that we're not expected to take anything from it other than "this is what it's like to serve on a destroyer in wartime", and any given ten-minute slice of the film gives us that as well as any other slice. It is fascinating at the level of watching men execute their training, and deeply, soothingly boring at any other level whatsoever. It does end up having the affect of a thriller, thanks in part to the constant wariness involved in bringing a convoy through U-boat-infested waters, in part because composer Blake Neely gives us plenty of pulse-raising musical cues, and director Aaron Schneider and editors Mark Czyzewsky and Sidney Wolinsky favor lots of short, sharp cuts to close, stuffy angles. But style is not foremost among the film's priorities (its aesthetic can be summed up as "too much digital color grading"), and it's not trying to push things forward to some climax through these thrills; it's just this then this than that, and then, phew, they get to England.

The filmmakers end up making this work largely by refusing to treat this with any amount of fuss whatsoever. It helps matters immensely that this is so damn short: only about 84 minutes before the credits start to roll. That's about the perfect amount of time to spend with a movie so intently focused on watching problems getting solved without insisting on placing forward narrative momentum on those problems; the less charitable way of putting it would be to say, that's the perfect running time for a movie to be boring without getting boring-boring. And certainly, Greyhound is a film that leaves itself wide open to the charge of being boring. It is a film for and viewers for whom the idea of WWII convoy logistics is in and of itself fascinating, for whom a multi-part opening title card situating us into the exact historical context and location within the North Atlantic where these events will unfold is captivating stuff, rather than feeling vaguely like a sidebar in a history textbook.

It is probably clear by this point, I am not such a viewer. Was I bored by Greyhound? Reader, I was not the-opposite-of-bored. Still, there's a distinctive kind of appeal to watching something with such a profound lack of pretension to being anything other than itself, and Hanks has the kind of inherently authoritative screen presence to anchor this material, even if he's doing very little. He's a trustworthy figure, and the film is basically all about watching a trustworthy figure labor over making the right decision to ensure the success of the operation he's in the middle of. Not much more too it beyond that, and absolutely no claims to there being more to it: it is a simple, solid, unfussy bit of nuts-and-bolts moviemaking, and while there's nothing vaguely inspiring about it, there aren't really any flaws, either.