Captain Phillips” has already been swallowed up by the endless news cycle. Director Paul Greengrass has done this sort of thing before, though. “United 93” was made six years after September 11th, when wounds were still raw. This commitment to discussing the facts while they're still relatively fresh is, no doubt, due to Greengrass’ history as a journalist.
Befitting that commitment to realism, “Captain Phillips” tensely following events as they happened. The movie goes out of its way to establish Captain Richard Phillips as an ordinary guy, seeing his position as captain of a freighter ship as only a job. The normal routine of the job is disrupted by the appearance pirates. Phillips and his crew manage to avoid the initial abduction. However, on a second try, the pirates board the ship, holding its crew hostage. Phillips quickly tries to outsmart the pirates but only winds up getting himself abducted. Tension inside the cramped life boat builds as the military gets involved and the two captains attempt to outwit one another.
The script is sympathetic to Muse to a degree. His own fear, at failing his warlord boss, is all too apparent on his face at times. Sweat drips from his face constantly. A moment frequently shown in the trailer sums up this angle soundly: Phillips asks Muse if fishing or kidnapping are the only options he has in life. Muse assures him that “Only in America” are such things possible. The movie never goes as far as indicting America’s own role in world politics. At the very least, it acknowledges Phillips’ kidnappers as human beings, forced into their life of crime by circumstance. His ultimate defeat has a sad undertone to it, another man crushed by the gears of his situation. Barkhad Abdi is well-suited to the role.
screamers. Greengrass is good at engineering thrills but little of it feels natural. It’s almost as if the film is saying to the audience, “How intense is this? Can you feel the intensity yet?”
What tension the movie does create is owed mostly to its performances and its writing. I’m not a huge Tom Hanks fan by any means. The guy has given some good performances in the past but I’ve always found his charm a bit on the “trying too hard” side. On one level, the role of Phillips doesn’t allow much opportunity for Hanks to “act.” There’s no time to focus on the man’s inner turmoil or strife, the story too busy moving forward. Instead, Hanks’ skill is employed in order to show a man under constant pressure. Phillips proves likable enough, especially during an improvised escape attempt, but is more of an audience cipher. At least until the very end, anyway, when his composure can finally drop. Hanks’ skill as a performer comes through finally. The climatic moment of Phillips screaming blindly or finally overwhelmed by the trauma of his situation prove powerful and effecting. Considering so many Oscar flicks are focused on Big Acting all the time, I guess I should be impressed that this one held back in that regard.
“Captain Phillips’ more-or-less succeeds at what it sets out to do, just not as effectively as it had expected. It’s a decent, not great, thriller. It’s also another example of a film that wouldn’t had been nominated for Oscars if it hadn’t been based on a true story. (And if it hadn’t been based on a true story, it probably would have starred Liam Neeson.) That Hanks was ultimately not nominated for Best Actor shows that the Academy might agree with that assessment. [6.5/10]