Review: “Captain Phillips”

Captain Phillips

Between “Prisoners”, “Gravity”, and “Captain Phillips”, I think it’s safe to say we’re now entering awards season at the local theater. Like many other films that come out around this time of year, “Captain Phillips” is based on a true story. You may remember the American cargo ship that was hijacked back in 2009 and, although there are a few complaints here and there, the film does a good job capturing the tension that must’ve been felt through the ordeal.

As you could probably tell from the title, “Captain Phillips” follows the story of the hijacking primarily through the eyes of Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) with glimpses at the military response tacked on near the end of the film. Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the leader of the pirates, is also introduced early in the film as we get to see more of the what the daily life of these guys looks like.

While traveling around the horn of Africa, an American cargo ship and its crew are boarded by a small band of pirates intent on cashing in millions of dollars for their crime lord bosses back home. Their plan goes awry, however, when the crew of the Maersk Alabama uses their knowledge of the ship to fight back.

For all of his competencies as a director, Paul Greengrass will forever be known to me as “that guy who thought shaky cam was a good idea”. Previous films where Greengrass ruptured your eyeballs employed this technique would be the 2 Bourne sequels with Matt Damon and “Green Zone”. Now just imagine how crazily the camera moved in those films and then remind yourself that this film is set at sea. I don’t want this post to just be about shaky cam, but honestly, it’s a cheap effect that only looks good about 5% of the time. Let’s just buy a tripod and be done with it. End rant.

While I may not appreciate some of his techniques, what Greengrass does accomplish for almost the entire film is a constant state of tension. From the pirates’ original attack to the film’s conclusion, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to breathe. I suppose you could ruin some of that tension by reading the real-life story, but just save that for later. The internet will still be here when you get back from the theater.

Seeing how he’s the only known actor onscreen for about 95% of the film, a lot of the story’s success rides on Hanks’ performance. (Hey, if you’re going to have that problem, might as well have Tom Hanks in your corner.) Aside from a tricky little accent he never seems to master, the actor puts on the kind of phenomenal performance you’re used to seeing from him. The film’s final scenes give his character a lot to work with and it makes for a nice touch to go out on.

Speaking of nice touches, first-time actor Barkhad Abdi does very well as the leader of the Somali pirates. What could have easily been a one-dimensional role is given some layers by this Somali native. His character is able to speak into some of the troubles the men of Somalia face and the differences between life there and in America.

Although there’s a lot of suspense and some good performances, “Captain Phillips” never crosses the line from good to great. The writing is a little basic as it just progresses the story along without a whole lot of flavor. Certainly not a bad film, but by the end of the year it will be in the “Also Ran” category.

Grade: B

I’m hoping to have a review of “Gravity” posted by the end of the weekend, so feel free to come check it out.

Happy viewing.


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