Captain Phillips is director Paul Greengrass's multi-layered examination of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. It is – through Greengrass's distinctive lens – simultaneously a pulse-pounding thriller and a complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalization. The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama's commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (two time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks), and his Somali counterpart, Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Set on an incontrovertible collision course off the coast of Somalia, both men will find themselves paying the human toll for economic forces outside of their control. The film is directed by Academy Award nominee Paul Greengrass, from a screenplay by Billy Ray based upon the book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. The film is produced by Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, and Michael De Luca.
I’ll be honest and admit, I’m not the biggest Tom Hanks fan. Let me clarify that, I’m not the biggest fan of his work after his great 1980s comedies. I respect what he does, but a lot of the films people love from him, I’m not too keen on (biggest being Forrest Gump). But I really do like director Paul Greengrass and the story of Captain Richard Phillips is perfect for a film.
So what did I think of the film? I liked it, I liked it a lot actually. Greengrass weaves a suspenseful film that makes you keep watching and never feels long despite being over 2 hours long. He gets fantastic performances out of the actors playing the Somali pirates who, looking at IMDB, have no other credits on their resumes. Hanks is great. He’s surprisingly charming in a role I didn’t expect to need charm and wit. He can definitely expect a nomination come Academy Award announcement day and it wouldn’t surprise me if both the film and Greengrass also get nominations.
Greengrass handles the film with ease which isn’t easy to do. I always forget how much he likes to move the camera and because of his style, you feel like you are on the ship. The scenes of Hanks and the others going through the hallways, you are right there with them. And the second half of the film, onboard the lifeboat, just brilliant filmmaking. You feel everything going on in that boat with Hanks and the pirates and it almost feels claustrophobic watching it. Then you get the Navy SEALs proving once and for all, every film is better with Navy SEALs. Greengrass, the man behind the camera for The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, proves he is one of the best at realistic action films of today. I’m sure there’s some CGI tricks up his sleeve, but Greengrass is a master at action sequences especially up close and personal.
Beyond the performances and tone/style, the film makes you think while you watch the events unfold. Four men, 3 of which are lucky if they weigh 150 pounds, armed with guns take control of a mega-transport ship with over 20 crew members. They get there by small boat, with a small outboard engine and take over a ship with tons and tons of cargo. How on Earth does that actually happen? I know it did, but how does these companies allow crew members and ships to be so easily available to takeover? There’s not one gun on a ship carrying millions of dollars of goods? How is that even possible? That’s the most surprising part of the story, that it simply happened.
I can see Captain Phillips probably making my top 10 list by the end of 2013. I can’t say I loved it like I did Argo, the 2012 Oscar winner that is similar in style and tone, but unlike Gravity, I’m agreeing with the popular vote and saying the film holds up to all its praise. I’m not sure how much of the film is fact based and how much was Hollywood-ized to make it a dramatic narrative, whatever the percentage is, it works. Unless Gravity somehow continues its big presence at the box office, I expect Captain Phillips to win the weekend with marginal other films opening against it.
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