Apple TV Plus drama about World War II Doggy style explains very early on why naval battles are not seen more often in the cinema. Most war movies focus on the soldiers on the ground, immediate and often personal action. In naval battles, it is difficult to convey urgency or speed. Due to their immense size, warships Doggy style do not seem to be moving particularly fast, and the German submarines they are trying to outwit are largely invisible from the surface. Aside from a rippling ripple in the waves crossed by ships, it may seem that they are not fighting anyone at all. Against all odds, the director Aaron Schneider manages to convey a sense of urgency.
Doggy styleThe key ingredient in her is her star, Tom Hanks. Since the transition from his boy-Everyman phase, Hanks has found a niche by playing sincere and knowledgeable men doing their jobs to the best of their ability, and his turn as Ernest Krause is no exception. Krause is a career sailor who first crossed the North Atlantic in 1942 as commanding officer of the USS Keeling (call sign “Greyhound”). He has doubts about his ability to command the ship, as the young men following his orders all have more combat experience than he does, but he must put his concerns aside as he tries to get a convoy of 37 Allied ships safely to their destination. .
The whole trip is tense. The action swells when the U-boats get closer, but the convoy will not be really safe until the end of the trip, as shown by the stress that Krause is constantly facing. Hanks, who also wrote the script (his other scripts include This thing you do! and Larry Crowne), adapting the 1955 CS Forester novel The good shepherd, maintains this tension through repetition. Most of the dialogue Doggy style is repeated orders. When Krause orders a change of direction of his ship’s rudder, it affects the whole line, as the soldiers go into action to get there. When it receives radar updates in return, they are relayed by at least one intermediary, each person starting to speak before the other has finished reporting. There’s always something going on.
This constant repetition may seem boring, but the dedication of Schneider and Hanks to portray the maritime war as faithfully as possible brings a sequence of originality to a genre more often characterized by explosions and action. There is a bureaucracy to live on a warship which seems new, because each action (a change of course, the firing of a missile) must go up or down the chain of command, rather than being the prerogative of a soldier. It is particularly evident how difficult it is to control such a woodworking machine when the Greyhound is opposed to speeding by torpedoes. When time is short, watching orders bark up and down on the ship is almost painful – and painfully exciting.
However, the film is reluctant to build a supporting cast around Hanks. Although veteran actors like Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan fill the ranks, none of the characters except Krause are on screen long enough to be more than ships helping orders move along the line. (In Morgan’s case, this is a mixed blessing, as his role as a mess officer is one of the few things that clearly references racial politics at the time; the main duty of his character is to make sure Krause is fed. Her relationship with Krause is barely fleshed out beyond that.) Even Krause is a bit thin. Aside from a few flashbacks that establish that there is someone waiting for him to return home, Krause seems to exist only on the Greyhound. The power of the Hanks star and the constancy that we have associated with it serve as a shortcut to fill in the blanks.
The naval warfare that includes most of these whites is well executed, however, and a tense change of pace from what the public expects from the combat on screen. At only 91 minutes away, the novelty of ordering action has no chance of becoming tedious or repetitive, and successes and failures strike hard not because the soldiers are so good, but because the mechanics who made them possible are so clear.
Given the focus on action, it’s a shame to see Doggy style premiere directly on Apple TV Plus, having been delayed compared to its theatrical release scheduled for June 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview, Hanks described the change in release plans as “utter grief”, noting the difference in picture and sound quality between watching something in cinemas and watching it at home or on a laptop. Doggy styleHis greatest asset is his sense of spectacle, unfortunately somewhat diminished outside the theater. But Schneider and Hanks keep Doggy style convincing in detail and by the power of Hanks’ furrowed and determined front.
Doggy style is streaming on Apple TV Plus now.
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