Captain Phillips Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 10.16.2013
Tom Hanks puts in a return to form performance as he takes to the high seas and is kidnapped by Somalian pirates. But is Hanks alone enough to distance the good ship Captain Phillips manned by Paul Greengrass from the competition in yet another bio-pic film? 411's own Terry Lewis investigates.
Tom Hanks - Captain Richard Phillips Catherine Keener - Andrea Phillips Barkhad Abdi - Muse Michael Chernus - First Officer Shane Murphy Corey Johnson - Helmsman Ken Quinn Max Martini - US Navy Seal Commander
I must be honest, Iím sick and tired of all the bio-pics and based on a true stories out and about at the moment. With the recent Rush and upcoming The Fifth Estate and Diana flicks, itís choking the genre, creativity and me with a lot of releases in a short space. Of course, it depends on how much you care about the person/events covered yet the casual cinemagoer must be wanting something a bit different from these adaptations of real life. Well, the directorial brain of the more political based Jason Bourne films, Paul Greengrass, and Tom Hanks teaming up to take on a sea captain being kidnapped by Somalian pirates should make for something a bit different then rightÖ right?
Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks, ) is off on another tour of duty as captain of the container cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama. Charged with taking the ship and crew along the Somalian-African coast, a routine pirate drill goes awry when actual Somalian pirates end up boarding the ship and taking the bridge staff hostage. Through many trials and tribulations, the Somalian pirate captain Muse (a debuting Barkhad Abdi) gets captured by Phillipís hidden crew so a swapover is agreed. It goes awry however and the four pirates along with Phillips bolt in the Alabamaís lifeboat. The U.S. Navy are called in and set about negotiating a deal for the good Captain before the pirates escape back to Somalia.
The cast is small with not many names but there are some fun faces with Corey Johnson in the background crewmembers and Max Martini still looking like a complete badass even though heís ginger. The highlight is Samolian-American newcomer Barkhad Abdi. He encapsulates the blinded and idealic chancer attitude shared by Somalian pirates in a great performance, although story wise youíre left wanting some background. His figure reflected by his nickname ĎSkinnyí is sickeningly realistic and Iím left wandering if he actually had to do any training to ďget in shapeĒ for the role. Wonderful stuff.
I can see the appeal of the real life events and story from this source since it sounds like a harrowing experience being captured and held for ransom and, yeah, you get the feel of it. But without getting too much into it, this is of course based on Richard Phillipsí own biased view in his memoirs about the incident. With lawsuits pending from his crew that heís nothing like the man portrayed in the book or film, itís put elements in my mind about the truth factor we get later on in the film. Itís up to your own personal taste and judgment as to whatís to find truth and fact. As a movie though, itís fine, even with a few movie-ifications of real life events.
Well kind of. Greengrassís uber-tense thriller style of direction may work in the Bournes but placed in the confines of a massive cargo ship against a stupid enemy it becomes a bit laughable. They should have Looney Tunes sound effects and music instead of the reasonable music arranged by Henry Jackman, when we know weíre about to see a barefoot Somalian pirate step on glass. So poor is the clubbering setup to a few situations, it really makes the Somalians look weak and dilutes their threat level massively. Yes, they have guns and can shout but thereís the fear of losing out on their bounty or ransom money through the loss of hostages, as shown by Muse not giving the order to bunk off one of Phillipís crew.
I guess Iím really taking the plight of the Somalians for granted here since they come from a poor, impoverished background with no real education apart from what skills theyíre taught and can only dream big but thatís giving Greengrass a bit too much credit in this situation. Actually Iíll give him some credit as the lifeboat scenes work well in closed, cramped conditions. For me though, itís filled with the same close-up and medium shots weíve seen in his films before. Granted this is is the right time and setting to use it, but itís a case of too late. Pardon the pun, but the boat has already set sail on the situation.
As a demo for the US Navy and seals in Captain Phillips, they must be chuffed with the way their sleek and flawless operation. The boys and their toys are out in force in bloody epic long shots of destroyers, parachuting in Navy seals and practically tricking the Somalians into a plan to line up shots to take them down. Even the medic girl at the end is awesomely robotic keeping in style. Thereís a weird subplot with the captain of the Navy boat charged with resolving the situation before the Seals turn up. Apart from taking credit, why is it that important over bragging right when thereís a manís life at stake? Still, canít fault the production for going all practical with location shoots which adds to the legitimacy of the true story.
I wished there was a better exploration of the Somalianís motivations. Thereís no real reasoning why these men are led into the pirate way of life apart from itís all they know or their former professions (farming) doesnít pay up. There are touches of this but the way the film makes out theyíre borderline cartoon evil with one of the kidnappers being Rabid McKillenstein (Jr.) in his angry bloodlust. Iím not going to dig into his character too much since heís the most sense seeing character of the Somalians but without a lack of motivation it offers one level of sympathy thatís usually reserved for stupidity. Coincidentally, I watched the South Park episode íFatbeardí recently Ė that cartoon encapsulated the reasoning behind why Somalian pirates do what they do far better than Greengrass here. Takes some beating when your big screen adaptation is trumped by South Park isnít it?
Now, Iíve intentionally left talking about Tom Hanks until the end because ultimately Captain Phillips lives and dies on his lead performance and it lives. You may take awhile to get behind his gruff exterior but it builds towards the harrowing and violent stand off and the events afterwards with the good Captain finally having time to break down after his ordeal is some best pieces of acting Iíve seen all year. Despite the film failing for me on a technical level, Hanks still propels the films with his realistic and dramatic plight. With awards season coming up, expect Hanks to be talked up off the back of this.
The 411: I was in two minds about Captain Phillips walking out of the theatre. Overall, itís a very well produced thriller with some tasty boat porn shots but a distinct lack of themes and reasoning in a near comical portrayal of Somalian pirates dilutes the film massively as a lack of a credible threat. Yet Hanks is so good start to finish I feel obliged to acknowledge how heís propped up a substandard film with a top draw return to form performance. Donít go in looking for a commentary and youíll be fine with the good captain in yet another okay bio-pic.