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Captain Phillips Review

15 Oct

627-2We all want to survive. That’s the essence of the film. If you don’t know the story of Captain Phillips, then go ahead and read it; it won’t take away from your enjoyment of this movie. This well-made thriller by Paul Greengrass (Bourne Ultimatum) is a fantastic tale of an ordinary man in an extraordinary circumstance.

That’s nothing new, but the film does it in a way that the ending doesn’t feel at all triumphant. All this is is a tale of survival, a tale of people that have to do what they have to do to survive in this world. The Somalian pirates know violence because that’s the only way they can make money, and the film does a nice job of humanizing them without it feeling forced. Yes, what they’re doing is terrible, but for them, it’s necessary.

The film is essentially broken down into two parts. The first consists of the pirates aboard the MV Maersk Alabama, run by a crew led by the titular character. The second consists of the pirates and Phillips in a lifeboat. They both convey a sense of horror, loneliness, and sadness. The first places the crew of the Maersk in a position where they have no way out: no weapons and no one to save them. They know the ship, but they’re trapped in the tiniest of spaces, encompassed by their own boat. The second places the pirates in the same position; they’re near their own mainland, but they have no way out. The Navy’s bearing down on them, the SEALS are standing by, and their own people have abandoned them. They’re in the tiniest of lifeboats, encompassed by their own waters.

It’s easy to tell that the film is drawing the parallels between the two groups, and while it can get a bit heavy-handed at times, Greengrass still does a great job blurring the lines of what’s right and wrong, even amidst actions that we know to be so very wrong. This works largely in part of the acting. Hanks is at his absolute A-game here, conveying the captain’s resourcefulness, compassion, and most importantly, fear; his final scene is one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. The pirates are fantastic as well, and the way Hanks plays off of them is a beauty to watch. His scenes in the lifeboat with them are claustrophobic, heartening, and devastating all at once.

The directing is great as well, although I’ve never been a fan of the shaky cam. Still, Greengrass ratchets up the tension with each subsequent sequence, ending in a long, drawn out half an hour climax.

(Spoilers)

This climax does feel a bit overlong, but it gets the job done. Phillips pushes the kid he helped into the water, once again emphasizing that need to survive. After that, we have a long sequence in which the Navy tries to rescue the captain, culminating in the dispatching of all three pirates (Phillips being in a blindfold actually has more of an effect on his psyche, as he’s a guy that needs to know what is going on. Only being able to hear those three shots is more jarring than seeing the pirates die, and Hanks conveys this beautifully). It’s overlong, that’s for sure, but the final scene of the film is gorgeous, and not in a conventional way.

Phillips is taken to a room to be looked at, and he can’t find the words to say nor the ability to keep his composure. He’s so overwhelmed by emotion, by sadness, by fear, and Hanks is perfect here in this cathartic, transcendent moment. It’s a stunning scene, and if that doesn’t earn him an Oscar nomination, I’m not sure what will.

The camera then pulls back, revealing the lifeboat in the center of all the huge Navy ships. It just shows you how small that lifeboat is, but how big Captain Phillips should feel. However, he doesn’t feel that way. Who can blame him?

GRADE: A-

Credit to Michael De Luca Producions, Scott Rudin Productions, Translux, Trigger Street Productions, and Captain Phillips for all pictures. I own nothing.

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