Friday, October 11

REVIEW: Captain Phillips

Directed by Paul Greengrass
2013 Drama
2 hours 14 minutes
From Columbia Pictures

Tom Hanks
Barkhad Abdi
Barkhad Abdirahman
Faysal Ahmed
Mahat M. Ali
Michael Chernus
Catherine Keener

One might be given to asking how a handful of skinny little ragtag dudes got aboard a huge ship that is shooting water around its entire perimeter.  Also up for discussion is why a ship would sail into famously pirate-invested waters without armed protection.  And since there were over twice as many people aboard the ship and they knew pirates were trying to board, why would they not have taken better advantage of circumstances than they did?  I would have very much disliked these holes in the plot except for one thing... it's a true story.  This is apparently how it happened.

I must admit that in 2009 I was completely drawn into the real-life, day-by-day reporting of the trouble aboard the container ship Maersk Alabama as it set off from Oman on its way to Mombasa when it was overtaken by Somali pirates and the ship's captain, Richard Phillips, was taken prisoner.  Much of the real-life drama for Captain Phillips took place on a lifeboat with his captors.  Eventually he was freed by Navy Seals and all but one of the pirates was killed.  It was an exciting story as it unfolded on my nightly news and I have heard numerous accounts from the real captain on talk shows.  He has also written a book about the experience upon which this screenplay was based.  Kudos to screenwriter Billy Ray for an excellent treatment.

The overall technical excellence of this high-seas adventure is due chiefly to the taut direction of Paul Greengrass.  He is the one behind the excellent United 93, another true life, pulsating, thrill-a-minute, take-over plot, so he clearly knows his way around this type of material, further evidenced by his directing two of the Bourne movies,The film could have gone wild with political and religious ramifications but Greengrass wisely stuck to the issues at hand... pirates taking over a ship for ransom. 

Special mention needs to go to Henry Jackman's totally appropriate musical score.  I had some edge-of-my-seat moments coupled with fast breathing and it did not go without notice that the music   rushed me along to those places.  Barry Ackroyd's cameras captured the hot, sweaty, crazed faces of the pirates, the hugeness of the ship especially as contrasted with the little putt-putts the pirates had and the rescue scenes were fresh and rousing.

While Hanks gave a restrained, rather understated performance, top acting honors must go to those who played the pirates, none of whom, of course, do I know.  Greengrass could have plucked them right out of those Somali villages and taken them out to sea, so believable were they.  Frightening and dangerous as hell.  The leader of the group, Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi, I have seen on some talk shows.  He is a first-time actor from Minnesota and he answered a casting call.  He is nothing short of brilliant.

An aside is that the film will shed more light on a scheduled lawsuit brought on by some of the crew of the Maersk Alabama against the ship's owners for putting them in harm's way (although apparently no harm came to them).  Although not suing Phillips directly, they allege he repeatedly ignored warnings of piracy in the area and took that route anyway to save money. 

Phillips himself has gone on record as saying the media has made him out to be something he's not.  I can't believe the media would  sensationalize something, can you?  And might a book publisher want to make him out to be a larger-than-life hero when he might have just been a regular guy trying to save his life and those of his men? 

Whatever are the nitty-gritty truths or Hollywood untruths, the event happened in real life, played out in the world press and it has made a compelling film.

It seems that tales of survival are in right now and several should figure prominently in the upcoming Oscar race. Prisoners has a survival element and certainly Gravity is right in there.. And we have Redford's All Is Lost coming up along with 12 Years as a Slave. Captain Phillips can more than hold its own in the survival department and that name should be called out a time or two during the Oscar ceremony and there should be brisk business for Columbia Pictures.

Did He Quit Us?

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