Sunday, October 20, 2013

Captain Phillips (Theatrical Review)

Captain Phillips (2013)
Action, Adventure, Biography, 134 minutes
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali

I was a huge Tom Hanks fan in the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, but it's been a while since he turned in an exceptional performance. I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, but Hanks hasn't been great since Cast Away 12 years ago. After hearing the early buzz about Captain Phillips, I was hoping one of my favorite actors would return to peak form.

Although Hanks didn't put a foot wrong, I came away a little disappointed. Let me explain why.

We meet Rich Phillips (Hanks) as he is driving to the airport with his wife, Andrea (Catherine Keener). This introduction is somewhat brief, and Catherine Keener plays no further part in the movie. What it does do is allow us to see how Phillips prepares for a trip. He's aware of the dangers of piracy, but he's an experienced man.

The next characters we meet are the pirates. This introduction is a much longer segment, and is extremely chaotic. We learn that life is hard for these Somali pirates and that they have bosses that they have to answer to. These people felt like standard villains to me, and we end up knowing little about them despite the length of time spent showing us their homeland. They talk in heavy accents when they do speak  English, and they have bad teeth. Yep, these are the people we are supposed to hate.

Some of the most impressive scenes in the movie happen near the beginning as we see Phillips go about his routine. Hanks is particularly good at playing understated roles, and he's completely believable. The tone changes when the inevitable meeting with the pirates occurs. If you were to sit down and guess what kind of things might happen from this point, you would probably be pretty close. I know the movie is supposed to be based on real events, so I can't deduct points for lack of originality, but there aren't many surprises.

I'm not going to delve into the plot beyond these scenes which all take place in the first 30 minutes. Anything more would venture too deeply into spoiler territory.

Paul Greengrass also directed The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, which are among the best action movies I own. If you are familiar with those, it won't surprise you to learn that Greengrass employs similar techniques in Captain Phillips. He tries to enhance the action by showing extreme closeups and point of view shots, intended to place us right in the middle of the action. You can also expect to see plenty of shaky cam effects. Although this worked quite well, it will definitely annoy some viewers.

Captain Phillips is a tense account of what can happen in dangerous waters. When you see all of the events transpire, you might be wondering whether it wouldn't be cheaper and safer to hire a few armed guards if you're transporting cargo through the region in question. The ultimate resolution was infinitely more expensive.

I'm happy enough with Captain Phillips, and will be adding it to my collection, but I'm still waiting for a role meaty enough to extract another Oscar-worthy performance from Tom Hanks. Don't avoid it, but temper expectations a little.

Overall score 3.75/5

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  1. I haven't seen Paul Greengrass' action movies, so don't know what to expect. I've heard a lot of praise for Captain Phillips. Nice to read an assessment here that dares to look at its weaker elements as well.

    1. Thanks Chris. I was hoping to give it 5/5, but it was lacking in a few areas from my point of view. I'm sure most people will be glad they saw it and it certainly isn't a waste of time. No strong roles for women in this one.

  2. Most likely going to garner Hanks an nomination, which is totally deserved. It's his best performance in a long while, and shows that he's definitely one of the best working actors today. As for the movie, it's even better as it continues to bring tension to a story we already know the ending to. Good review Steve.

    1. Thanks Dan. I agree that it's his best performance in a while.