Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
I recently saw Gravity, a film that some people are calling the movie of the year. I felt a little bit differently about it and got some flack for it. It was visually interesting, sure, but it lacked the simple things that I'm looking for in a movie to get me to love it: a good actor & a believable story. That's pretty much all I need and I think that's what the average person wants too. Give us a good plot with some good acting and you can throw away the digital effects and the artistic symbolism. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed many cool-looking and/or deep-thinking films, but at their core they've been well-acted fascinating stories. And that's what Captain Phillips is. It doesn't relay an incredibly poignant message, it doesn't wow audiences with special effects, and it doesn't blow any minds, but it delivers an amazing performance, a gripping plot, and enough detail to make us believe in the credibility of the story. Not rocket science really, just solid film-making.
The titled Captain Phillips is an American cargo ship captain, a family man, and a hard worker. His most recent job takes his boat around the coast of Africa and past the Somali coast. Pirate activity in that area had been high & warnings had been sent out to all traffic, but the job came first and the ship remained on its course. During a drill, Phillips and his crew spot two small boats coming up behind them and begin to fear for the worst. When one boat turns back and the other loses power, the threat seems to be over. But when one boat returns, Phillips knows that his worst nightmare is about to come true. The hijackers board the ship, taking the Captain hostage while his crew hides in the engine room. Attempting to negotiate with the pirates, Phillips agrees to go with them onto a lifeboat while a captured hijacker is brought up for exchange. But when things go wrong Phillips finds himself a prisoner, a hostage to these desperate men, and his life hangs by a thread.
Captain Phillips delivered. It gave me what I wanted and that's always appreciated. The story was intense & realistic, the acting was (for the most part) top notch, and I was left feeling satisfied that I had seen a high quality film. Director Paul Greengrass did a great job of conveying this story in a believable way, in a way that got me in the shoes of the characters on both sides and hooked me until the climax. The action was nicely timed, not silly, and never cheap. There weren't a lot of fake tugs at our heartstrings, which I appreciated, just real emotion well-portrayed. And the majority of that credit goes to Tom Hanks. He was excellent as Phillips; in charge but human, confident but afraid. Hanks is an amazing actor, he really can be anyone, and this role didn't seem to give him even much of a challenge. It wasn't incredibly deep or multifaceted, but it was solid and he pulled it off with ease. None of the other actors were really on display except for Barkhad Abdi, and while he was fine Tom Hanks stole the show and made the movie.
In a way it was actually two movies. The first half was about the ship, the threat of pirates, the way in which they would be dealt with, the fear as they boarded, the human element of negotiation. That was where Hollywood stepped in, made a movie out of a true story. And incidentally, a lot of the details of that part of the plot are being refuted. Apparently Phillips ignored warnings, put his men in danger, and was basically despised by his crew. But the film painted him as more of a hero, and since you & I don't know the truth we'll just have to assume both stories are partly right. The second half of the movie was more of a learning experience. The rescue was just so detailed; the procedures that were followed, the military involvement, the hierarchy of operatives. We were basically behind the scenes in an intensive Navy mission and got to learn the language, the method, and the outcome. Now, that wasn't my favorite part, but it was pretty interesting and I'll give them credit for switching back & forth between the details and the characters, putting faces behind statistics in a really nice way. All in all, Captain Phillips was a solid movie. I doubt it wins any Oscars, although Hanks stands a chance, but in my book it was far superior to Gravity. That film didn't give me what I wanted, this one did, and I left the theatre feeling satisfied.