Why Did I Watch It? New 2020 films are always welcome.
In the first half of WWII, a fierce battle raged in the Atlantic. The German Navy, with a large fleet of U-Boats, attempted to blockade the United Kingdom, and prevent supplies (and later troops) from arriving from America. Running this gauntlet was a very dangerous business. In the middle of the ocean, out of reach of air cover, a handful of destroyers had to defend merchant convoys from the wolves, circling below.
Watching this very earnest, and surprisingly effective, war drama I thought: someone gave Tom Hanks this book for Christmas, he loved it, and decided to make it into a movie. And really: there are worse projects. Certainly, there have been worse movies this year. The biggest sleight against this is probably the lack of resources; the wide shots, to give you a sense of the overall conflict, are low rent CGI that prove something of a distraction.
But in another way, the limited budget aids the film. It has a lean run time (always welcome), and an impressively stripped back story. When we focus on Hanks’ characters, Captain Sturdy, it works pretty well. The cramped bridge of his ship, the titular vessel, is rendered like a surface version of ‘Das Boot’; crew and officers charge down narrow corridors, people yell orders and intel, difficult decisions have to be made based on guesswork. The U-Boats wait for the best moment to strike, and have enormous advantages. But as soon as they do attack they reveal their location, and leave themselves open to a counter. A deadly game of chess. Hanks is so absorbed with the evolving conflict he forgets to sleep, or eat.
There is little outside of this. Elisabeth Shue lights up one scene as Hanks’ girl, there is an awkward exchange of super sentimental radio messages at the end, right before Hanks prays. An unabashed throwback to the values and character of an earlier era, and if it sometimes mawkish, it is well intentioned and delivered with sincerity.
Another entry in an enduringly popular sub genre of modern film: Tom Hanks is good at his job.