As real as it gets – One aspect of Hollywood that I enjoy from time to time is seeing a story you heard about in the news play out on the big screen. Plenty of these types of stories have come on gone, but they don’t always get the attention they deserve. Yes, some have like last year’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” but many have not, which is why it will be interesting to see what side of the coin “Captain Phillips” falls on, a film from the same man that brought us “United 93” and “Green Zone,” two wonderful films that deserved a lot more attention than they got.
What’s it about? Well for those that don’t remember, this follows the true events that occurred back in 2009 when the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates. That ship, led by Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) was due to sail its cargo through the dangerous waters off the coast of Somalia and down to Mombasa. But, not too long into the trip, the Maersk Alabama is approached by pirates who attempted to board the ship. Unsuccessful in their first attempt, they return the next day, board and wind up taking control of the ship and Captain Phillips. Led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the pirates begin to search the ship for the rest of the crew who had hid very well. So well, in fact, thay they wind up capturing Muse and set-up an exchange for their own Captain. But, when it was time to make the switch, the pirates changed the plan taking Captain Phillips with them in the ship’s lifeboat. When the U.S. navy intercepts the boat the next day, tensions heighten, and things start to unravel for the Somali pirates sending this story of terror into the unknown.
Who was in it? It’s a pretty easy cast to digest when Tom Hanks is leading it; especially one that involves a host of Somalian’s who have never acted before. But, don’t let that fool you as the Somali’s in this film were more than prepared thanks to the careful direction of Paul Greengrass. I was impressed with what I saw from newcomers like Barkhad Abdi, who was among the 700 participants that tried out for a part. I believed everything he did, which for a story like this, is all you want. With that said, he did have some help from fellow Somali-American’s Barkhad Abdirahman playing Bilal, Faysal Ahmed playing Najee and Mahat Ali playing Elmi. That’s good because had they not been as strong, who knows what we would say about Tom Hanks, who showed me something new here. I didn’t think that was possible, after all these years, but he was great playing the title character inside and out making sure the audience felt every emotion Phillips had going through this ordeal. It was neat to watch a guy like Hanks sort of reinvent himself in this film and I could easily see a few nominations go his direction, mostly due to how believable he was playing Richard Phillips.
Crafty direction – No matter what you might think of Paul Greengrass and his style, he truly is a great director; if not for his unique camera shots, for the realism that he shoots with. I like him and actually had no clue he was the director until the credits rolled. That’s right, I went into this film that blind apparently either forgetting he directed it or never seeing his name attached. And what’s funny is how I recognized the style, but could never put my finger on who it was. All I knew is I liked it, which is a great compliment for what Greengrass did here. He filmed big and small, using every part of his budget just as he did years ago with “United 93.” And when I say small, I mean within the small confines of the life boat, which really raised the level of drama as if you were right there. I mean the story, which was adapted from Richard Phillips own 2010 book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea , is almost unbelievable when you see it play out like it did. But, that’s how a biopic should be, so I credit Billy Ray for handing this draft to Tom Hanks who signed on immediately. I think without him or Paul Greengrass, this film would not have made it and been something for Oscar voters to consider.
Bottom Line – “Captain Phillips” is one of those old-school motion pictures that dial up drama in all the right places, all the while giving the audience something to think about when it’s all said and done. I like that and Paul Greengrass for showcasing this story in the way that he did, since so many of us had no idea how incredible that mission to save Captain Phillips actually was.
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