Bridge of Spies

This week, we take a look at Stephen Spielberg’s latest piece, Bridge of Spies. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, and Amy Ryan, the film is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.

In the cold war, A lawyer, James B. Donovan recruited by the CIA and involved in an intense negotiation mission to release and exchange a CIA U-2 spy-plane pilot, Francis G. Powers that was arrested alive after his plane was shot down by the Soviet Union during a mission- with a KGB intelligence officer, Rudolf Abel who was arrested for espionage in the US (from IMDB).

7 out of 10

If you can remember, I put this film on my ‘Top 5 Most Excited For’ list way back at the beginning of this year. With Steven Spielberg directing, Tom Hanks acting, and the Coen-Brothers writing, this film is guaranteed to be a success. Might as well give it Best Picture already. This were my thoughts a few months ago when first coming across Bridge of Spies. Maybe it’s because my expectations were too high, but I can’t lie; I was rather underwhelmed. Not to say it was a bad film, because it wasn’t, it just was, well, underwhelming.

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Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors of all time, and again he delivers as James B. Donovan. As the protagonist, Hanks drives the film, and thank god he does, because without him I can’t imagine how charmless this film would be. He has charisma, humor, but also a sternness that grounds his character in the film and makes him realistic. The turmoil that his character goes through and the way he deals with it is ultimately what makes this another outstanding Hanks performance. There are some other strong showings, including Mark Rylance as a persecuted Soviet spy that Donovan grows fond of, and Amy Ryan as Donovan’s fearful, but supportive wife.

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Per usual, Spielberg does an incredible job of creating the historic setting, the camera work serving to prolong the drama and keep the atmosphere of the Cold War tense, dark, and moody. This solemn tone was maintained throughout, largely due to the fantastic production design and cinematography that kept the film in the midst of the Cold War.

Yet the tension stops at the production design. For a spy thriller, I did not get much of a thrill at all. I felt the mistake was that the film was split into two parts, one being the trial of the Soviet spy, the other being Hanks’ attempt to trade the Soviet spy for the United States’ own spy. The first part felt like an interesting commentary on nationalism versus morality, whereas the second part felt like a cute middle school dance between the Americans and the Soviets, when you knew that the two would get together in the end to make a deal, but they spend the longest time skirting around it. That was my biggest problem: it was too predictable. Argo was predictable, but still thrilling. For a solid five minutes, I was convinced that Ben Affleck and co. would not get out of Iran alive. I just didn’t get that same feeling from Bridge of Spies.

‘Bridge of Spies’ by DreamWorks Studios.

Perhaps the reasoning for that is a lot of the tension built up circulates two characters that no one really cares about. Frederic Pryor and Francis Gary Powers were characters that I did not empathize with, and I doubt many others did either. There was not much development for their characters, so when they were captured, I could have cared less if they were killed or not. In fact, I liked the Soviet spy more. I’m not sure whether this can be attributed to poor acting or poor writing, but those two characters lacked appeal that removed any tension the film could have had during its final act.

Overall though, it is impossible to discredit Spielberg and Hanks from what is overall a well made film that should get nominated for plenty of Oscars. Perhaps you can attribute my disdain for the second half of the film to it being nearly 11:00 PM by that point, while being on the tail end of a double-header in which I witnessed Michael Fassbender absolutely dominate as Steve Jobs (but that is a review for another day. Soon. I promise). Bridge of Spies lacked the tension and thrill that would have made it an all time great, instead forcing it to settle with being another solid film that will be forgotten in a few years.

7.5 out of 10

Bridge of Spies brings together the powerhouse duo of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks once again, who have made successful films such as Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can, with a trun to the cold war, one of the few American history time periods Spielberg has not touched on in his filmography. Add this stellar pair with the Coen brothers (of Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men fame) writing the screenplay, and you have talent that almost guarantees a slam-dunk. And Bridge of Spies does succeed, for the most part.

The film tells the true story of James B. Donovan, played by Hanks, who was put in charge to defend a Soviet spy caught in the U.S., then ultimately has to negotiate a trade between the spy and a captured American U-2 pilot in the Soviet Union.

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Above all, the craftsmanship is what makes this film shine. Spielberg and his customary cinematographer Janusz Kaminski create a world that feels so much like the time period without spoofing it. This is seen especially in the opening eight minutes, which is purely visual imagery with no dialogue, that hooks you into the story. Spielberg also uses an old style of filmmaking where he prolongs every shot for as long as possible; so when one a cut is made, it gives the audience a subconscious feeling that a beat has changed within a scene, even if it is just between two people talking. This style makes the film come alive and proves once again that Spielberg is a master of the screen.

As the case in pretty much every Spielberg film, the acting is top notch. Hanks succeeds once again in his usual charismatic role, also with some humor, making us root for him as he has to deal with both stubborn sides (with a cold as well!). But because we always see him in this every man role, it is a little safe for him, and does not necessarily stand out in his impressive filmography. But who does stand out is Mark Rylance, who plays the soviet spy. Rylance has a tranquility to him despite the character’s desperate conditions, and forces the audience to feel for him despite him being an accomplice on the other side. Other notable performances are Amy Ryan as Hanks’ wife and Austin Stowell as the captured U-2 pilot.

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But for a thriller, the film has very little suspense in it. The film runs right by the numbers, with no twist and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat as most Spielberg films do. The narrative is split into two parts with the trial then the negotiations for the swap and while I found the former to really say something strong about Americans and the complication of patriotism in yesterday and today’s society, the latter feels like the story is going through the motions, despite the really great shots of the split up Berlin, where the negotiations take place.

Also I was a bit disappointed in the Coen Brothers script; it did not contain their usual idiosyncrasies or dark humor, but rather is more paint by the numbers than you would expect from them.

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And if there is ever a complaint to be made about Spielberg’s films, it is his cheesy, feel-good endings, and that is no different in this one, with a very gooey conclusion from a film that was much more mature than that.

But the way the film presents its historical material is so well done that I have to recommend it on that basis alone. Even though it feels like there is something missing in it, possibly from the absence of Spielberg’s usual composer John Williams, not many films today are made with this amount of care, and so gets my support nonetheless.


Thoughts on… 2015!

Hey readers!

2014 was a great year for movies, both in action blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy and indie dramas like Nightcrawler, and in less than two months the Oscars will crown Hollywood’s best. Some of Screenwars favorite movies of the year include Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Captain America 2, Gone Girl, and Birdman. But as we ring in the new year, it’s time to look ahead and check Vig and Will’s seven most anticipated films of 2015. (because five wasn’t enough for Will)

Number 7

St. James Place
First, I’d like to briefly acknowledge the films that didn’t make it. Joy, Spectre, Mockingjay Part 2. All are movies I will definitely see, but just didn’t make the list. St. James Place, on the other hand, did make the list. With Tom Hanks leading, Stephen Spielberg directing, The Coen Brothers writing, and an incredibly interesting premise about a Cold War spy, what isn’t there to like about the film? It should definitely be in the running for the top awards in 2015.
Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a struggling housewife turned entrepreneur, in this upcoming film from golden director David O. Russell. In recent years Russell has helmed such films as The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, all character driven dramas with fantastic casts. And with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro joining Lawrence here, Joy should prove to be one of 2015’s rousing successes.

Number 6

Honestly, anticipation for Ant-Man may be a bit of a strong word. Nervous may be the better word. If Marvel is going to slip up anytime soon, it will probably be with Ant-Man. With creative differences endangering the film early on, it looked as though the film would be a disaster. Nevertheless, it recovered, and Paul Rudd, Michael Douglass, and Evangeline Lilly headline the hopefully successful final sequence of Marvel’s phase two.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
Though Mockingjay Part 1 was a critical disappointment due largely to its dearth of action and tension, the second part of the Hunger Games’ final installment will hopefully be the action-packed finale we are all hoping for. Harry Potter arguably reached its greatest heights with the concluding Deathly Hallows Part 2 and given the unbelievable cast assembled for this new Hunger Games film, here’s to hoping we will see the same thing mirrored in Mockingjay. At the very least, teens will come out in droves for this one.

Number 5

Jurassic World
We have been witness to three Jurassic Park films, with only one of them being remotely good. Luckily for the series, the first one is a classic and its legacy is, for the most part, still in tact, still making 2015’s Jurassic World so heavily anticipated. Chris Pratt stars, hot off his breakout year with starring roles in The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, and will be sure to give this film the star power and comedic touch it needs. He will be supported by Bryce Dallas Howard and Jake Johnson in a movie that looks to bring relevance back to the Jurassic universe after two straight duds in the series. 
Inside Out
There were some fantastic animated films this year – most notably The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, and How to Train Your Dragon 2—but we were robbed of the yearly Pixar feature. In Inside Out, we get a look at the inner working of the mind of a teenage girl and the emotions that battle for control of her head. Featuring the vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, and Lewis Black, all comedy stars, Inside Out will surely be a massive hit for all ages and a film that will contend for Academy Awards next year. We should expect nothing less from the creator of Monsters Inc. and Up.

Number 4

The Hateful Eight
This is tentatively put on here because after Tarantino’s outburst about the script leaking, who knows if this will actually come out this year. Regardless, this film looks to be great. Samuel Jackson and Quentin Tarantino always produce gold, from Pulp Fiction to Django Unchained. Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, and Tim Roth join Jackson to give this film a superb cast, one that will give Tarantino plenty of talent to work with. The Hateful Eight, at least in concept, will continue Tarantino’s string of great films and perhaps be a contender for Best Picture. 
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Avengers is the third-highest grossing film of all time, and I fully expect Age of Ultron to gross even higher, given the seemingly ever-increasing desire for superhero tent poles. Marvel studios has had a string of massive financial and critical successes, including Captain American: The Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy and with Joss Whedon directing Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth, look for Age of Ultron to be a critical success and the highest grossing film of the year, the decade, and maybe of all time.

Number 3

The Revenant
Could Leo finally get that Oscar? It looks possibly with The Revenant. The film is about fur trapper Hugh Glass, who is robbed and abandoned by his companions after being mauled by a bear. Surviving and out for vengeance, the film follows Glass, played by Dicaprio, on his quest for vengeance against his companions who left him to die. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu, coming off a hit in Birdman and starring DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domnhall Gleeson, this film certainly has the star power to be great. Supported by an extremely interesting premise, watch for The Revenant in best picture discussions next year.
Spectre will be the 24th Bond movie and will ostensibly begin the exploration of the criminal organization that dominated the first – and the consensus best – Bond movies that starred Sean Connery. My major complaint with Skyfall was that it felt too much like a typical action film rather than the suave Bond films that we’ve been accustomed to, but with the throwback to the original films that we saw at the end of Skyfall, Spectre has the potential to be one of the best Bonds yet. Oh, and joining Daniel Craig and Ralph Fiennes will be Blue is the Warmest Color lead Lea Seydoux and Quentin Tarantino-favorite 2-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz.

Number 2

Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens
Of course this is on here, it was just a matter of whether it was first or not. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanatic in the world, but the original trilogy is arguably the best series of all time. I wholeheartedly trust JJ Abrams with this film, who has directed two great Star Trek films and definitely has a great grasp on the sci-fi genre (he also built a replica of Millennium Falcon, so yay practical effects!). By the looks of the first trailer, Episode VII will not follow the path of prequels and disappoint us all.
The Hateful Eight 
Quentin Tarantino will make his return to the big screen with 2015’s The Hateful Eight. Tarantino’s story will feature two bounty hunters, betrayal, deception, and, knowing Tarantino, a massive amount of violence. Featuring Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth, the legendary Bruce Dern, and global superstar Channing Tatum, who just found his first fantastic dramatic role in Foxcatcher, The Hateful Eight will undoubtedly be one of the finest movies of the year and an almost definite Best Picture contender.

Number 1

Avengers: Age of Ulton
Drumroll please! The new Avengers is a hands down number 1 on this list. You all know my affection for superhero films, and with the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolling at full force, Age of Ultron looks to be one of the best Marvel films yet. Following perhaps Marvel’s best year yet, one that featured Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers 2 heralds a star-studded cast that adds Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen to the mix. Joss Whedon is also back at the helm directing what looks to be Marvel’s biggest film yet. The first trailer was sick, and the leaked details about storylines (CIVIL WAR!!!) regarding Marvel’s phase three only make this movie all the better, making it my most anticipated film of 2015.
Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens
Words can’t describe just how excited I am for this movie. Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite films of all time, featuring fantastic characters, a compelling story, and groundbreaking visual effects. Despite the trilogy of prequels that did all they could to ruin the Star Wars legacy, with JJ. Abrams at the helm and Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, and Andy Serkis joining the original cast of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, I’m confident The Force Awakens will be more reminiscent of the original trilogy rather than the prequels. In a year full of sequels to blockbuster franchises, three of which are on this list, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is by far the most anticipated movie of 2015.


What movies are you most excited for in 2015? Let us know in the comment section below. Happy New Year!

Thoughts on…

Forrest Gump

Last week, Forrest Gump was re-released in theaters to celebrate it’s 20 year anniversary. We won’t be reviewing it, since it’s a known fact that we’re both pretty fond of it. Instead, to celebrate it’s 20th year of existence, we’ll be discussing the meaning of the film and it’s significance to us.

In case you don’t know, Forrest Gump follows its titular character (Tom Hanks), a man with a low IQ but good intentions, as he runs through life and to success against all odds. He joins the army, makes two livelong friends, wins medals, becomes a shrimping boat captain, plays at the Olympics, runs across the country, inspires Elvis, and meets not one, not two, but three presidents along the way. However, the one thing that eludes him is his childhood love, Jenny (Robin Wright) is the thing that matters most.

The following paragraph is what I wrote about Forrest Gump in my top five list approximately a year ago.

“A movie that you can quote in its entirety, recite lines from, or be able to answer all the trivia questions at Bubba Gump shrimp restaurant correctly is definitely deserving of being number one on your list. I’ve see this movie many, many times, and it never get’s old. The charm, the plot. Everything. Tom Hanks delivers one of my favorite acting performances of all time as the titular character, the idiot who still manages to accomplish… well everything! The plot is one of the most outrageous, impossible stories but really, who cares? It’s such a heartwarming, humorous tale that sticks with you. It has its funny moments, its sad moments, and its romantic moments. It even utilizes an extraordinary amount of computer graphics, if you haven’t noticed. It’s a movie made for everyone, especially me.”

Definitely still applies.

Forrest Gump is my favorite movie of all time. There are movies that I love, movies that I would see 100 times over, and movies that I claim could be the best of all time, but none of them are Forrest Gump. As I mentioned, I once went to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory (the food isn’t overwhelmingly good, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun if you’re a Gump fan) and the waiter came in and asked trivia. I got all of them right without a problem (I’m very proud of that, as you can see). Then one of the patrons asked the waiter if they knew who Forrest was named after. The waiter didn’t, but I did. Nathan Bedford Forrest, of the Ku Klux Klan. That’s my story.

The point of my little anecdote was to 1) brag and 2) show you how much I adore this movie. The significance of this movie to me is indescribable. It is a heartwarming, culturally significant, and a straight up fun piece of film. Along with Rocky and yes,  Dodgeball, this is the true underdog story. Everytime I watch this movie I can instantly assure myself happiness, knowing that Forrest accomplishes what many others couldn’t, even thought he’s “not a smart man”.  The connection that I made with the character is something that no other movie has been able to do to me since. I still root for him getting out of the friend-zone every time.

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If you haven’t seen Forrest Gump, then you’re really missing out. In fact, you haven’t found the true meaning of life if you haven’t seen it. So please, sit down on your couch and spend 2 hours and 22 minutes watching it because it is so worth it. Its 69% Rotten Tomatoes score is bullcrap, take my word for it.

“Run, Forrest! Run!”

Need I say more? Yes. Because there’s a lot to say about Forrest Gump (Which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It’s one of those constant movies that you know everyone’s seen. You can rely on it. Heck, if I’m in a good mood and I see a jogger running on the side of the road, you better believe that I stick my head out the window and yell “Run, Forrest!” (I’ve gotten a multitude of responses, ranging from thumbs up to smirks to the “Shut the !@#$ up and let me run” expression”.

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However, the funny thing is that Forrest Gump, like oh so many of the greats, just got “meh” to regular reviews when it came out. It clocks in a mediocre 69% with Top Critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a modest 71% with the rest. But there’s a couple of reasons I thoroughly enjoy it. Personal reasons that critics can try and put their finger on put simply can’t so we’ll just have to review them here:
History: When I saw this in sixth grade, my mind was blown. I was intensely into social studies and when the movie wrapped up I was in awe. A movie that incorporates history with none of those pesky, long blocks of dialogue? With actual funny and exciting moments? Unheard of! Now, of course, I love movies that set out to accurately portray historical figures but, way back when, this was just the right blend of fun and history I needed.
Its Tone and Balance: Tone is a very hard thing for me to place but Forrest Gump is in the same species as those dramedic memoirs. Though its peppered with Americana and very real events, it operated in its own world; one with a perfect mix of drama and comedy. It had its own potent taste and identity that really makes it stand out. But I really think that identity started with its…
Heart: Did someone call 911? ‘Cause this one’s a cop-out. Mainstream critics must be Disney villains or something because they truly underestimate and underplay the value of actual care going into a film. Something about how tight Robert Zemeckis sewed the story together and how much the actors pour into their characters really resonates with me and a lot of others, I think, even if they don’t know it. When this first came out, it was accused of being Oscar-bait that preyed on sentimentality. Maybe it is but the story doesn’t seem to be crafted to win an Oscar rather it seems to be crafted to (Surprise, surprise) tell a good story. And that really made all the difference.

Plus the killer soundtrack helped too.

Captain Phillips

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.

6.5 out of 10

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.

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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.

IMDB: 7.9
Metacritic: 83
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%