This week we’ll be looking at Captain Phillips, based on Richard Phillips’ memoir A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea. The film is directed by Paul Greengrass and stars Tom Hanks. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences that contain some violence and bloody images.
Captain Phillips depicts the real-life hijacking of the US Maersk Alabama in the horn of Africa three years ago by Somali pirates, along with the subsequent kidnapping of the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), as a hostage. As the movie progresses, we see both Phillips and Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the leader of the Somali pirates, struggle with leadership while also experiencing personal troubles and conflicts they seem to share, while also experiencing the tense crisis and the US government’s attempt to thwart it. While they both wait for their respective sides to arrive and provide help, we see their resourcefulness (Or lack thereof) and get a glimpse at what makes them who they are: leaders during a challenging time.
Tom Hanks is probably my favorite actor of all time. He’s timeless, and so genuine in every single performance, whether it’s as a gay man with AIDS (Philadelphia) or an astronaut (Apollo 13). Tom Hanks is definitely one of the greatest actors of this generation. Captain Phillips proves he’s still got it.
Even though it looks like he may have been playing a somewhat exaggerated version of Phillips, Hanks still plays it really well. He has the intensity, emotion, wits, and insecurity necessary to make a realistic hero. He is brave and daring, but still a bit hesitant and fearful. The final few minutes were fantastic, largely in thanks to Hanks’ tear-jerking, emotional portrayal of a confused and scared Phillips. It uncovers a part of him we haven’t seen before; the deep, emotionally intense side. However, besides Hanks’s stellar performance and maybe Barkhad Abdi in his film debut as the main antagonist, I didn’t see much in the rest of the cast. Perhaps it’s because they’re relatively unknown, or because their characters were bland, but I wasn’t too fond of the rest of the ensemble.
The film makes its money off of it’s intensity and fast pacing. It’s what people want to see. They want to be thrilled and excited. The entire film from beginning to end is a thrilling adrenaline rush, something that is really hard to accomplish in any type of film. It was visually enticing as well, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. This is what makes this film an enjoyable film overall. However, while I feel like this is a strength for the film, it also leads to various weaknesses. The film is so set on making itself exciting and thrilling that it forgets to teach us about the characters. We know virtually nothing about the crew and pirates, and in some ways we knew nothing about Muse and Phillips themselves. The film spend two hours and ten minutes on its plot, and about five minutes on its build up. I know I was ranting about excess build up last week, but a cameo by Catherine Keener is all they can give me? Additionally, there were definitely scenes that could have been cut down. I mean seriously, didn’t we know the Somalis would lose the entire time? And why did the navy get so much screen time?
If I’m speaking honestly, I don’t think I’m giving this film enough credit. It does have a really well written script, it is extremely exciting, and the ending is fantastic. The storytelling is also really good, especially for a film with such a complex, intricate plot. But nonetheless it has its flaws. It’s characters were a bit underwhelming, it ran about twenty minutes too long and worst of all, the film had trouble finding an identity. Was it an action film, or a story about bravery and heroism? Some of you readers may ask why it matters. Isn’t a movie just a movie? To that, I say, if a film doesn’t know itself, then it can’t portray it’s message properly. This film didn’t know whether to show you the intensity of the situation through particulate navy strategy or Phillips balling his eyes out.
So overall, is this film good? Sure. You’d probably like it more than I did.
Is this film worth seeing? Why not. Tom Hanks is awesome.
Is it Oscar winning-material? Eh… Not quite
8.5 out of 10
“Everything’s going to be ok.”
Captain Phillips, played very believably by an aged Tom Hanks, hears these words a lot in this movie. Personally, though there are plenty of great monologues and nuances to mention, that quote sums up the movie for me. It’s uttered in the beginning by the pirates as they take Phillips hostage and by the end, when he is assured by a doctor he’ll be fine.
I was very worried this movie would go after angles that would crush its narrative power. I walked in believing it’d just be a carbon copy of Argo with some cartoonishly evil pirates and Tom Hanks added to distract from its unoriginal story. But the writers didn’t go for that. They didn’t go for what the previews made it look like. They went the right way. A way that shows the humanity of all the characters, even the “villains” without relying on those action filled “Yeah America!” moments to keep it afloat.
That has been kind of a trend. Its been somewhat normal to turn actual historical incidents into either a sob story or some sort of triumphant action movie, wiping out all the emotion and truth in the process.
Captain Phillips keeps it quiet and contained. The bulk of what I remember takes place in a small escape boat where the pirates and Phillips often just converse about the situation. They talk about their hopes and how they got there. One of the lead pirates, Abduwali, gives an especially poignant speech about how he always wanted to go to America and how he resorted to robbing boats to get money. It’s quiet moments like these, often transitioned between each other with some beautiful tracking shots of the sea, that make the louder moments all the more exciting. Sometimes, you can’t have a crescendo without a diminuendo.
Captain Phillips develops its characters so well using this. I found myself rooting for the crew when the pirates attack yet still feeling terrible whenever the impoverished Somali characters have to face the failure of their first stab at piracy, the life that has been somewhat forced on them.
That is an amazing feat and, more importantly, a testament to the film’s pacing and three-dimensional characters. Captain Phillips may be trapped but so is everyone else. Each person is stranded in their own way hoping that something will some how come through for them. So, by the end, when we see the government agents celebrating a “job well done” next to a shaking, traumatized Phillips it leaves us with empathy for everyone.
But don’t worry, it’s all going to be ok.
Bonus Video: Interview by Captain Phillips on Larry King Live, one year after his experience.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%