T O M H A N K S
“I just did it so I could work with Paul Greengrass, and, of course, Tom Hanks,” Catherine Keener told me when I spoke to her about Captain Phillips. Indeed, Oscar nominated director Greengrass has made only a handful of films (two of them Bourne movies), but has become someone highly respected in the detailed thriller genre. Greengrass’s United 93 continues to be his masterpiece, and his previous film Green Zone his low point, but Captain Phillips delivers the type of taut, American heroic film we love to cheer for. One of the screenplay’s smartest elements is dividing the screen time equally between Hanks's character and his captor.
On a routine delivery from Oman, through Somalia, Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) and his crew travel through waters known for hijackings aboard the Maersk Alabama. Just as Phillips is having his crew run a drill, he spots two fast approaching skiffs. With no weapons on board to defend themselves, he uses tactical defense like spraying water from hoses, flare guns and high speed, but the Somali pirates are not only desperate, this is their way of life. Phillips must risk his own life to spare the crew as he jumps into the ship's lifeboat with the pirates.
You wonder how a small little skiff boat can overtake such an enormous tanker with 20 or more stout men on board; a mosquito taking down an elephant is what we witness. While the story never fully empathizes with the pirates, it certainly gives us enough insight into their world that we understand the delicate and tragic situation these young Somali men are in. “You’re not just a fisherman!” Phillips says to Muse (Barkhard Abdi) at one point out of frustration. Captain Phillips could easily have been a more simple film about the US Navy coming in with guns blazing to save the day, but Greengrass digs deeper than that and shows this ordinary man dealing with an unthinkable situation.
We know how history turns out on this one, but it’s more important to study the last 15 minutes of the film, in which Hanks delivers some of his finest work. Throughout the film his character exudes clever thinking, strong leadership and always keeps his cool with his captives, but eventually that wall must come down and the shock he has endured let loose. There is no denying Greengrass and crew have made a good film, but this is the second film focusing on the pirate problem facing freight ships this year, the previous being the Danish film A Hijacking, which is equally as good on all levels and maybe even more suspenseful. The big question is whether Hanks will finally get another Oscar nomination; his last was in 2000 for Cast Away. It’s a good performance, but there are certainly other more impressive and overall triumphant turns in 2013.
Final Thought – Greengrass and Hanks deliver a really tough suspense thriller and character study.
Grade B+ By: Dustin Chase
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
Captain Phillips is about as close as you could get to experience vicariously what it would be like to have your ship invaded by pirates. Paul Greengrass (United 93) has the singular ability to bring his viewers into a horrendous situation as if in a virtual reality computer game, a “You are there” feeling. One has the same experience in this film of stiffening, gasping for breath, and clenching as in the just-released film Gravity, but in the latter it was achieved as much by technology as by the story itself. Greengrass does it by more traditional filmmaking.
This is also a tour de force performance by Tom Hanks, who speaks with a Boston accent, commands his ship with authority, then must eventually give way to the terror of a being kidnapped and surrounded by hot-headed gun-wielding punks. He perfectly captures the look and behavior of someone in shock. Heroically, the Captain’s concern throughout is for the safety of his crew and reassuring communication with his family at home.
A nod should also be given to the actors playing the roles of pirates (Barkhad Abdi as Muse, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali), whom Greengrass recruited from among the Somalis living in Minnesota. A balance was achieved in filming so that in the end, viewers hold some sympathy for the young pirates while being grateful for the rescue of Phillips. (I am assuming people know this is based on a real story in which the Captain was rescued.)
A gratifying aspect of this film is seeing exactly how the Navy Seals, the government, and maritime organizations actually pull off a rescue of this nature. Clever negotiation and timing is everything, and there is always the threat of some kind of surprise. Planning it through in every detail while keeping one’s cool head in those circumstances is essential for the success of the operation.
Captain Phillips is a finely crafted film that almost everyone should find exciting and inspiring.