BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
OCTOBER 20, 2013
It’s easy to take for granted great filmmaking. Dulled down by a constant barrage of films every week, audiences expect to be entertained and stimulated as much as possible. The fact of the matter is, however, if you were to give one hundred different directors the same film to produce, you’d come up with one hundred different approaches. A handful of times each year, the perfect director is paired with the ideal subject matter to produce the best possible outcome. Paul Greengrass and “Captain Phillips” are that quintessential pairing.
Based on the true story of four Somali pirates hijacking a U.S. cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, in 2009, the film follows this isolated incident from the moment the boat leaves the port to the Seal Team responding to the kidnapping. Tom Hanks steps into the shoes of title character Rich Phillips, as he attempts to protect himself and his crew as their ship is boarded by pirates. Greengrass and his cinematographer follow carefully, with a sharp eye for the hints of action while providing the sea’s vastness. Hanks is incredible as the Captain, remaining authentic through his changing environments. Complimenting his juggernaut performance is Somali actor Barkhad Abdi, playing Muse, the leader of the pirates. With a thoughtful dynamic, this is not your run of the mill antagonist performance, but a layered and thought-provoking delivery. Both of these men are sure to be acknowledged for their outstanding achievements.
“Captain Phillips” is emotionally taut, developing from situations like the crew attempting to stay hidden from the prowling pirates or the constant dangling of Captain Phillips’s life while on the life raft. Reminiscent of last year’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” the audience is once again privy to the inner workings of the U.S. military Seal Team operations. Even though the focus remains mostly on the pirates-hostage situation, having the U.S. Navy respond and seeing their tactics does enforce an almost superhero quality to that particular branch of the military. Although we’re not entirely inside the mind of any of the officers or agents, as we were with Jessica Chastain’s character in “Zero Dark Thirty,” we are allowed on board as the decisions are being made, but kept at arm’s length.
Easily the most potent thrilling drama of the year, “Captain Phillips” takes an otherwise stale newspaper headline and breathes life into it that is perfect for the big screen. With layered performances and a keen eye for the grand scale of things, Greengrass’ drama snowballs from a standard pirate hijacking to a nervewracking escape. In one of the most jarring and emotionally wrecking sequences, the ending puts you in the mind of the Captain and forces you to experience this unbelievable set of events. Hanks brings tears to my eyes by dominating the film’s final scenes with pure and utter shock. There’s no doubt that “Captain Phillips” will garner some Oscar buzz, matching the robust dynamic set by “Zero Dark Thirty” and delivering on an even more emotional level than last year’s Seal Team endeavor.
October 11, 2013
“A Captain’s Duty”
by Richard Phillips & Stephan Talty
Sony Pictures Releasing
(for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use)
Michael De Luca