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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Captain Phillips
Captain Phillips
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // October 11, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted October 10, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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When it comes to filmmaking, there aren't very many things more powerful than when a feature is able to put a knot in your stomach. A lot of motion pictures require suspension of disbelief, but the element of reality has the ability to hit much harder. Even though Captain Phillips is a Hollywood feature, it still possesses quite a bit more oomph than the majority of the big thrillers that hit the silver screen each year. Director Paul Greengrass has been involved in his share of action flicks, but this type of intensity is rarely handled in Hollywood. However, this time it isn't a fictitious story, but is based upon a true story. A lot of audiences will compare this to Denmark's A Hijacking, but it shouldn't surprise you that this isn't as good. Regardless, you should be glad that we have received an intense thrill-ride that is worth the price of admission.

Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is set to oversee the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama and ensure that it gets to its destination in a timely fashion. However, he notices that a couple small boats filled with armed Somali pirates are approaching the cargo ship. The crew takes their position to fend them off, but the pirates ultimately succeed in their hijacking. Captain Phillips is left with the mission to protect his crew at all costs. He has no choice other than to follow everything that he's told to do. This transforms into a much more dangerous and intense operation than the pirates were expecting to encounter, as the U.S. will do anything necessary to stop them from reaching land with Captain Richard Phillips.

Writer Billy Ray has turned the true story into an extremely clear three-act structure. As each major plot turn occurs, the stakes continue to escalate. The first act begins with some character development given to Captain Phillips before he even arrives on the cargo ship. We're even given a taste of what life is like for the Somali pirates at home, as we watch them prepare for the hijacking. Once Phillips is at work, the audience witnesses how several drills are carried out on board. Soon after, the chase between the pirates and the cargo ship begins. The crew is aware of their presence, but is following every regulation necessary to ensure their safety. Even though we know that they will inevitably board the ship, this is still an entirely captivating scene that had me sitting at the edge of my seat. Despite the fact that we have knowledge as to what will happen, the filmmakers have still managed to keep us engaged.

After the pirates board the cargo ship, Captain Richards is forced to cooperate. To ensure the safety of his crew, he continues to manipulate the pirates in order to keep them away from their hidden location. Billy Ray's screenplay continues to get more engaging as the story continues. It's understandable that this would be the most horrifying experience in one's life, but Captain Phillips remains calm and collected. Audiences will become so invested in the lead character, that your eyes will be glued to the screen, hoping that everything works out for him. Whether or not you know how the story goes, it's obvious that things can only get worse from here. After all, we're only in the second act. In this respect, viewers will always know when something good or bad is about to happen to our protagonist. Coming from somebody who didn't know the gritty details of what happened on the cargo ship, the filmmakers kept us entirely informed with what was going on from both the protagonist and antagonist perspectives. It would have been even more intense if we weren't constantly made aware of the pirates' intentions and thoughts.

The third act of the movie gets a lot more intimate. Fortunately, we aren't on the ship the entire running time. We spend a large amount of time in the lifeboat. Before the pacing kicks back into high-gear, quite a bit of dialogue is exchanged between Captain Phillips and the pirates. Billy Ray's dialogue is fairly good, especially considering the fact that numerous scenes could have come across as being cliché, but he saves them from this fate. He delivers a strong build for our lead character, as his stress continues to become greater. Captain Phillips breaks down little by little, revealing the man underneath the tough exterior. Even though the movie's suspense is pretty good, the dramatic elements of the climax is the highest point of the film. Not only will it keep your attention, but you will feel the pain brewing within the main character, and that's a powerful thing.

With Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali starring as the primary group of pirates, they manage to deliver these characters in an authentic fashion. However, the true star power comes from Tom Hanks in the role of Captain Richard Phillips. Not only is he entirely believable in this character, but his delivery is perfect. There are a lot of excellent character subtleties that would be difficult to discover without the expertise of Hanks. His performance through the final ten minutes of the picture are absolute perfection, and perhaps one of the best representations of a character in his entire career. This is a stunning display of exceptional acting that puts Tom Hanks on top.

Director Paul Greengrass is known for his hand-held style in pictures such as The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Green Zone. I'm not a fan of his visual signature, but he does a great job with Captain Phillips. The handheld style is still there, and annoying as ever, but he brings a lot to the table. Greengrass' direction aids in keeping you on the edge of our seats throughout the entire picture. Once the feature moves to the lifeboat, he delivers a large amount of close-ups, making us feel claustrophobic in this tiny space. The audio track is just as impressive, as it intensifies this gritty motion picture to its greatest extent.

I found Captain Phillips to be a solid biographical crime drama. It kept me at the edge of my seat through the majority of the running time, even with knowing the general idea of how the events took place. Unfortunately, the filmmakers made a few odd decisions. By constantly spoon-feeding the intentions of the Somali pirates to the audience, we're left knowing every single detail before it happens. This could have been a great element of surprise, as not every viewer knows the details of this hijacking. Even though it's still an intense film, I didn't need to know the details of every action before they even happened. Regardless, Tom Hanks delivers a phenomenal performance in the title role. As the movie progresses, we witness this man slowly begin to break down. Hanks pulls off a miraculous transition that feels all too real. The final few minutes of the running time will leave you with a lump in your throat. Captain Phillips comes with a recommendation.

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