Review: Captain Phillips (2013, Paul Greengrass)

captain_phillips_movie-600x350RATING: 8/10

Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Michael Chernus, Barkhad Abidirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Catherine Keener
Screenplay: Billy Ray (Based on the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips & Stephen Taity)

Director Paul Greengrass’ thrilling, heart-wrenching action-drama about Captain Richard Phillips true story is so engrossing that it keeps you at the edge of your seat the entire time. Greengrass is such an ambitious director, and his direction here pars to his masterpiece “United 93” (2006). Hanks, by far, does his best acting performance since 2000’s “Cast Away”, which is saying a lot because I used to say I’m against post 90s Hanks. But he certainly has won me over again with his gripping portrayal as the Captain under pressure.

“Captain Philips”, played by two time Academy Award winning actor, is a true story (based on the true experience of Richard Phillips, who wrote a book on his experience) who’s American cargo boat is abducted by Somalian pirates. Unarmed and unprepared, Captain Phillips miraculously fights off the pirates along with his very resourceful crew, until their issue becomes an international news headliner as Phillips is taken by ransom.

The first thing I’d like to point out is Paul Greengrass’ direction, which is by the far the strongest feature of the entire film. Though Hank’s performance is definitely a highlight of the film, the way Greengrass did this film ensures the success of the entire picture. Apart from the intensity of the entire motion picture, what I like most about Greengrass is that he never makes a “star feature” when a large ensemble cast of unknowns are involved, if that makes any sense. Greengrass never forgets to bring out great performances from his numerous supporting players (like he did for “United 93”) and doesn’t simply stick to his star, which in this case is Tom Hanks. What I think is most impressive is the way he handles the amateur African actors who played the Somalian pirates. These men, though not obviously “stars”, are really important to the film’s narrative and are properly directed to believability by Greengrass. Abdi, plays head Somalian pirate Muse, who may be on his way to a supporting Oscar nomination, if the category is weak this year.

It is however, Hank’s film, performance-wise. Like I said earlier, Greengrass is the right director to have helmed this project for Hanks. Without his help, Hank’s performance might have suffered or at least not have been as “great”. But still, Hanks is back to absolute lead man status with “Captain Phillips”. He bounces back from his really bad new millennium run that reached an ultimate low with that film “Larry Crowne” (2011). Thankfully, Hanks is back on the dream train, as the brilliant Captain Phillips. His turn was emotionally pulling, along with resourceful, and he hits every note right in the bulls-eye. Hanks is on the road to a sure spot in the Best Actor Oscar category, and I’m sure that the Academy will receive him well. It’s impossible not to reward him an Oscar nomination with such a showy role, which will be deserving of a spot. His final scene, believe it or not, lives up to its hype. He shinned all throughout.

The one thing that prevents me in giving the film a score of nine is its pacing. Don’t get me wrong, the film wasn’t boring at all. It was entertaining and gut-wrenching. But there was something about the way it was written and executed that disappointed me a little bit. When the Somalian pirates take over Captain Phillip’s ship, we reach a thrilling height. But the placement was weird because from some a high point in the plot, we dip back down, as if the filmmaker was giving us two climax’s. Weirdly enough, they did give us two climax’s. I know that narratives don’t necessarily have to follow a certain type of plot of format, but in the case of “Captain Phillips”, it didn’t work so well. It’s a smart, action-drama, that suffered in pacing when it’s first climax disappeared right into act two of the film. It just felt so out of place for a lengthy film.

“Captain Phillips” shouldn’t be counted out this season for awards. It’s best chances are definitely in the categories of actor, director and editing (which in a Greengrass film, is not surprising because it’s usually this good). I can see film fans going crazy over it, because it is in fact a great motion picture. Glad I was able to see it early. Two thumbs up!

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