Wow, live-action role-playing has gotten intense. And so authentic looking! How very kind of Tom Hanks to lend his gravitas and inescapable likability to a bunch of World War II naval reenactors on their weekend-getaway “crossing the north Atlantic in 1942 dodging U-boats” campaign.
Gamemasters Aaron Schneider — responsible for behind-the-scenes organization and the extraordinary additional step of filming the campaign — and Hanks himself — who wrote the campaign (inspired by C.S. Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd) — are extremely dedicated to realism. They went so far as to build a significant percentage of an apparently historically accurate WWII-era US Navy destroyer, where all the action occurs. I’m no expert on LARPing, but as I understand it, LARPers usually have to rely mostly on realistic costumes and personal props to immerse themselves in their fictional milieu — medieval LARPers, for instance, don’t get to play in a real castle! As you might expect, the costumes and props here are on a par with the beautifully replicated setting, so the experience was surely incredibly immersive. It must have been hugely enjoyable and a lot of fun for the participants.
This campaign takes its title, Greyhound, from the codename of the destroyer, which Hanks’s (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Toy Story 4) character commands, leading a multinational convoy protecting a multinational merchant fleet ferrying war supplies to Liverpool. Hanks’s officer is inexperienced, but every time U-boats attack, he throws saving rolls. Hooray! (Or, wait: Is that Dungeons & Dragons? How do LARPers determine who wins a confrontation?) It’s all very exciting, I think. The LARPers are often playing at night, and it’s often difficult to see what’s going on, even given the gamemasters’ adherence to realism. Probably the murkiness is part of the realism — I suppose the Nazis wouldn’t have attacked in the daytime, when it would have been easier for the Allies (and us) to see what was going on. But I question slightly the point of letting us peek into the LARPing action if we can’t really tell what’s happening.
Anyway, the gamers do seem deeply engaged in making the reenactment as bona fide as possible, to the point of not mucking up the gameplay with pointless detours into their characters’ motivations, or wasting time talking about anything other than tactics and battle stuff, or worrying about things like “relevance” or “metaphor” that might bog down the campaign. This is basically Hanks — and a couple of other familiar faces: actors Stephen Graham (Rocketman, Hellboy) and Rob Morgan (The Photograph, Just Mercy) showing themselves to be secret LARPers — playing an elaborate game of Battleship, which is thankfully much better than that movie actually inspired by the classic board game.
Elisabeth Shue (Battle of the Sexes, Chasing Mavericks) shows up for about two seconds at the very beginning — in full-blown 1940s regalia, and good on her for that — to wish Hanks well as he goes off on his little battle weekend with the boys. It’s sweet when friends can endorse each other’s hobbies, even when they can get this elaborate and time-consuming.