Captain Phillips (2013)

Paul Greengrass shows why he is a contemporary master of intense cinema in this superbly crafted thriller with a powerhouse Tom Hanks performance.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Paul Greengrass
2013 | USA | Drama/Thriller/Biography | 134 mins | 2.39:1 | English & Somali
PG (passed clean) for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use.

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Plot: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years.
Awards: Nom. for 6 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing.
Distributor: Sony Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Review #964

(Reviewed in theatres – first published 8 Nov 2013)

Spoilers: No

With each passing film, director Paul Greengrass shows why he is a contemporary master of intense cinema. I regard him as an auteur, a first-rate filmmaker who knows how to craft a superb thriller.

Captain Phillips is another gem – a tense suspense-drama that sucks you in and doesn’t give you room to breathe. It is a hostage movie, bearing similarities to his 9/11 plane hijack masterpiece United 93 (2006), which I think is still his best work to date.

Captain Phillips is also a docu-realist account of a true incident in 2009, told with confidence and veracity; it is very much a Greengrass film with his unique visual stamp and remarkably well-paced storytelling.

“Look at me.”
“Look at me.”
“I’m the captain now.”

It stars Tom Hanks, the film’s only familiar name, as the captain of a huge cargo ship that is targeted by armed Somali pirates who are desperate for a big payday.

Hanks gives an outstanding performance that might deservedly earn him his sixth Oscar nomination, in particular during the final act and epilogue, where he shows his emotional range with some powerhouse acting.

His very performance towards the end of the film elevates Greengrass’ work to a whole new level, imbuing an already astutely-crafted movie with a rare dramatic power that only a world-class actor like Hanks could have delivered.

Greengrass’ trademark use of the shaky camera is evident and assured as always, and is given more legitimacy as much of the action is shot on the high seas.

While composer John Powell (Greengrass’ frequent collaborator) is noticeably absent, Henry Jackman does well to accentuate the action with thumping rhythms, though I think Powell might have done a more impressive job.

Originally, Ron Howard was on board as the director in development stage for “Captain Phillips”. Howard, though, would eventually swap feature film projects with Paul Greengrass, who was set to direct “Rush”.

Fast cuts are alternated with landscape shots that give viewers a big picture view of the situation, while containing the drama often in confined quarters. Hanks’ character becomes our eyes and ears as he tries to survive in the company of rash, nervous pirates who get more than what they bargained for.

The filmmakers’ attention to detail, in particular the risk involved and strategic complexity of U.S. Navy rescue missions is outstanding. It is both elaborate and uncompromising.

Captain Phillips is as realistic as it gets, and while it fuels one’s adrenaline and provides more than two hours worth of suspense, it never loses sight of the human drama – the intensity and vulnerability. I expect this to be nominated for a few Oscars, including Best Picture. Recommended viewing.

Grade: A-




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