When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.
5 Things You Need to Know About…
1. Captain Phillips is a taut, clinically precise, tension builder of a movie that drives the dangerous waters of the story of a 2009 Somali pirate hijacking of everyman Captain Richard Phillipps and his US Cargo ship off the Eastern African coast safely to shore.
- Tom Hanks, sporting an at times nondescript, an at times unintentionally comedic New England accent that certainly does not pass the native Bostonian authenticity muster station, gives his best (and least Tom Hanks-ian performance) since Cast Away.
With Bloody Sunday, United 93, and Captain Phillips now in bold on his directorial resumé, Paul Greengrass is the most prolific filmmaker working today of true stories of harrowing real life events involving a highjacking (In the case of the brilliant Bloody Sunday, the 1972 massacre of innocents at the hands of British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland, the hijacking was of a more metaphoric nature. The civil rights march was hijacked by the violent actions of the IRA and the British Army.). All three movies, told through the lens of a hand-held documentarian cinematic style and a straight forward, unsentimental plotted delivery, are successful sojourns in accuracy and realism, but Captain Phillips is most successful of the three at character. Part of this is due to the undeniable screen charisma of Mr. Hanks and part of this is due to the nature of the real life story (it is really about Captain Phillips fight for survival), but Greengrass also provides a deeper zoom here into both Hanks’ heroic portrayal of Captain Phillips and the mindset of each of Somali pirates. Much of the action of the movie is spent in the claustrophobic confines of a stuffy life boat and Greengrass allows the audience to endure our own seat as a fateful passenger.
In working under the presumption of complete realism, Greengrass does not often allow for much sentimentality or for an overarching or overbearing message to peer through his pictures (the anti-Oliver Stone, so to speak). He simply allows for the facts to speak for themselves. Yet, the story of Captain Phillips does have some pertinent allegorical overtones about the nature of power, both at the individual level (Captain Phillips versus his handful of attackers) and at a much larger level (The inevitability of who is going to lose – the little leaguer Somali pirates – when the US military rescue operation albatross rears its Major Leaguer status, is striking.). I do not for a nautical knot have any sympathy for the actions of the Somali pirates, but I do appreciate the way that Captain Phillips is not afraid to point out how they do derive from an unjust system of “haves” and “have-nots” that limits options and can lead to a more nefarious existence.
Although Captain Phillips may at first glance be well-fit in the classic “great rental, but don’t need to see it in theatres” category, such a movie of pristine competence, execution, and entertainment value, deserves a cinematic viewing. Most importantly, Captain Phillips delivers the best performance by the best modern movie actor of the last twenty-five years without the first name “Daniel” and the last name “Day-Lewis” in over a decade. With Saving Mr. Banks on the holiday season horizon, it is a pleasure to have Tom Hanks back in the conversation and Captain Phillips is a most meaningful way to start it.