Reel Review: Captain Phillips
Written by: Ben
I have to admit, with Zero Dark Thirty coming out like the same year Osama Bin Laden was killed, it feels weird that it took so long for Captain Phillips to come out. This story of the American freight captain who was kidnapped by Somali pirates and then saved by Navy Seal Snipers was the biggest thing to hit the news at the time. Hell, South Park did a pretty great episode on it and how crazy it is that pirates are seriously still a thing. So does the gap between the actual event and the film mean that it loses some of its impact, or does the teaming of Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass keep its impact? Well, why are you reading this question when the review with actual answers is after the jump.
So let me cover the plot a little more than I already have, but I’ll be honest that what I already said is the basis. But basically Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) starts out prepping to leave his quiet home with his family in Vermont to fly out to South Africa for a job as work in his field is limited so he needs to take such a dangerous job. The threat of Somali Pirates is well known and Phillips is taking extra care for them, checking security and running drills with his crew who don’t quite see it as such an imminent threat. That is at first, but then a 4 man crew of Somali Pirates set upon them and invade the ship. Without spoiling any of what happens, to get here, we end up with Captain Phillips as the sole prisoner of these armed men just out there for the payday but are on edge as things aren’t going exactly to their plans.
Really here I have to say that it is the casting that really excels in this film as each performance is natural and really draw you in. The obvious of course is Tom Hanks who really doesn’t feel like you’re watching Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, it feels like you’re watching this clever and seasoned sea captain who wants to keep his ship and his crew safe so they can all go home. He has a compassion even for the pirates that are putting his life in danger as he wants to both understand them and be able reach them with that what they are doing is just insane. The biggest welcome surprise though is that the other major cast members are truly the pirates, and all of them are phenomenal. Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali all put in stellar performances in this their first time acting. These 4 men put in a performance that is on the level of Tom Hanks who is opposite them in almost every scene and it really keeps their threats feel natural and raise the tension nicely.
I have to say that a lot of credit for that casting and those great interactions also has to go to director Paul Greengrass. Greengrass is most well known for directing the last two Borne films to star Matt Damon, but I do need to say that both Garrett and myself really hated his last film Greenzone. So really his part in this film could’ve gone either way but he really turned it around from that last film here as in general he does a great job with his casting and managing those scenes with them together. Tension gets thick enough to cut with a knife and its truly great, just I wish that it was consistently like that. The slow build at the start is understandable, but then its notably uneven in that pacing until the pirates get there. They try to keep it balanced but it just doesn’t really feel like rising action as action rises then drops back down to nothing quickly. It is only hurt further as Greengrass continues to use that shaky cam he was fond of since Bourne and truly it isn’t needed as it doesn’t help the realism to make me feel seasick like I was actually on the boat.
Overall the strong performances and well managed tension win the day here in a film that could make Hanks a strong contender for a Best Actor nomination, and I would say likely a Best Supporting nod for Barkhad Abdi. Its not the best film in the world, but it does its source material proud and is a film I would certainly say is worth your $10, or whatever price you pay for movies these days. This is the start of Oscar season so while its not necessarily a “fun” movie, it may be more your pace if you find Gravity isn’t.