October 13, 2013

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

As you know, in recent years I have found myself moving more and more away from based on true story type movies. I have discovered that I am much more enticed by genre film making, or film making that seems to be more creative and interesting to me. The idea of recreating real life stories has lost some of its luster. This is not to say there cannot be very good craft and skill involved in making them, but I find I am less interested, kind of like the recent Ron Howard movie, Rush. That just looked exceptionally dull to me.

Now I am faced with the release of Captain Phillips. We all know the store of the Maersk Alabama, even if you don't remember the name of the ship. Back in 2009 the cargo ship became the first American ship to be hijacked in two centuries. They were following a route through Somali waters when the prates came aboard and ended up leaving with Captain Phillips as a hostage. To lasted a couple of days, culminating with the pirates being shot simultaneously by a Navy SEAL team.

We know the story. The question is whether or not the story can be made,worthy of the cinematic treatment. It is an incredible story of real human drama, but do I want to watch a movie about it? The adaptations will always have some sort of compromise, attempts to amp up the drama for big effect, and take character shortcuts to get us invested in them, partially trough artificially contrived fashion. So, why see Captain Phillips?

What got me in the door was Paul Greengrass in the director's chair and maybe a little bit of Tom Hanks in the lead. Greengrass is a proven stylistic talent with a knack for making everything involving and immediate, just look at his work on the second and third Bourne films, United 93, and even Green Zone. Beyond that, Tom Hanks knows how to act, sounds simple, but when he is on, it can yield spectacular results.

Captain Phillips gets off to a bit of a rocky start with some heavy handed expository dialogue between Phillips (Hanks) and his wife (Catherine Keener). It sets the stage of hard times for all in the current state of the world as filtered through thoughts of their children. This contracted with the warlord driven criminal hierarchy where the men are essentially forced into piracy in order to survive. First world, third world, everyone has to survive.

The movie continually steps up its game. Tom Hanks works as a stabilizing force, keeping everything on track. We follow him through his arrival in Africa and at the dockyard. We watch as he checks the sip and reviews the route. Meanwhile we follow Muse (Barkhad Abdi) as the pirate skiff captain, who leads his ship trough the wake roughened waters and boards the ship looking for money.

Before long, a scuffle ensues and the pirates use the Alabama's lifeboat to escape with Phillips in tow. Now this is where the interest level comes up and the skills of Greengrass and Hanks truly shine and make this movie well worth watching. It becomes fascinating to watch Phillips interact with the pirates, paternal and survival instincts coming through simultaneously. Also, Muse and his insistence of knowing how to deal with Americans and insistence that everything will be OK. Crossing tales of desperate men that culminates with the tense showdown when the Navy arrives for the rescue operation.

Greengrass and his handheld style gets you right inside the drama, putting you face to face in cramped quarters. Hanks talent truly shines as his reactions seem so utterly real and in those final reactionary moments I found it rather difficult to not be affected by his performance. It gets very raw inside that boat as the ordeal grinds towards the inevitable conclusion.

In the end Captain Phillips is a very good film. It overcomes its clunky start to deliver real character and genuine emotion. It is not a movie to demonize the Somali pirates or artificially inflate Phillips as a hero. It is a well balanced movie that, while keeping to the event in question, it attempts to show reason on both sides and succeeds.

It is certainly a quality film and while I may not rank among my favorites, that does not diminish the craft or skill that went into its creation, nor the emotional intensity that draws you in keeps you invested through the end.


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