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NYFF 2013 Review: 'Captain Phillips'

Reviews
by Dan Simolke
September 30, 2013 9:51 PM
13 Comments
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Paul Greengrass knows what he wants.

Every time I walk out of a Greengrass movie I feel like I saw exactly what he wanted me to see. He’s also not one for indulgent flourishes, and his films seem to say: “There it is.” Handheld docudramas don’t tend to be favorites of mine, but I’m fairly certain I speak for the majority when I say no one does it better than this man. Even though the latter two “Bourne” movies are completely fictional, they feel a lot more realistic than most Hollywood action fare. His aesthetic just lends itself to realism, and he’s found another story that couldn’t benefit more from this approach. He also just seems like a cool, relatively down to earth guy. I didn’t notice him at the Harvard Club party after the Opening Night screening (hopefully he skipped it to go home and read or something) but I did spot him chilling out the next day at the festival, happily talking to anyone that came up to him. I like to see that.

The closer the “Captain Phillips” release date loomed, the more people seemed to want to dismiss it as a lesser, Hollywood-version of Tobias Lindholm’s, “A Hijacking,” which was released earlier this year to fantastic reviews. “A Hijacking” is the slower, but tighter, of the two movies, while “Phillips” moves with Greengrass’ trademark tenacity. That’s as much as I’ll compare the two, because they are both incredibly well-made movies, and prove that at the end of the day a movie’s quality is dependent upon its execution as much as its content.

Richard Phillips is the kind of guy that might appear overly serious to his crew, but it’s only because he knows what can happen when you don’t pay attention for a minute. Even with his abundance of precaution, a group of Somali hijackers (quickly and effectively introduced a few minutes before) manage to overtake his ship, the Maersk Alabama, reinforcing the fact that hunger and a lack of financial options are motivating factors that can prove difficult to contend with. This is all handled believably, but the stand out detail is the performance by Barkhad Abdi as the lead hijacker, Muse, who simultaneously commands a frighteningly capable, yet unexpectedly sympathetic onscreen presence. Muse’s group manages to get aboard the ship on their second attempt, after an extra group of pirates has given up on the task, just solidifying his dedication.

After some intense confrontation between the Maersk Alabama crew and the pirates, it seems like a resolution can be attained. Before that happens, Phillips is forced into a smaller boat with the pirates, and the rest of the movie consists of the situation surrounding his capture, and the attempts made by the Navy SEALs to negotiate his return. The film feels a bit repetitive during these scenes, because there’s only so much to do, but it’s also the only time one really feels the 134-minute runtime. It’s an otherwise expertly paced piece of filmmaking. It also suffers a bit from simply being a document of something that’s already happened, and not much else. As far as that sort of thing goes, like I said, it can’t really be done better than this, and any criticism regarding that serving as a limitation may have to do more with my personal preferences than anything else.

Then there’s the third-act. “Captain Phillips” contains a 10-15 minute stretch (the most impressive parts being composed of two longer takes, at least by Paul Greengrass standards) where Tom Hanks, to put it frankly, just plain crushes it. Most of his acting here takes place after some traumatic events, part of it immediately after, and I bet some people will be inclined to dismiss it as “Oscar-pandering” or something of that nature, but it’s not. It’s Tom Hanks running the anchor leg for a movie that was probably already in the lead, and pushing it as hard as he can. He wanted it. Normally, I’d be the cynical guy writing something like this off, but not this time. As far as standalone segments go, it’s “Joaquin Phoenix getting processed in The Master” caliber acting. I was going to go B+ on this, but then that happened.

Grade: A-

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13 Comments

  • Carcotas | January 10, 2014 7:54 PMReply

    It's fair to say that the movies which have been walking away with Box Office numbers this year have been either big superhero movies or big sci-fi movies. If you're wondering whether or not you should go and see this film because it looks like something a little different DO IT! This is a film, regardless if you already know the story, which delivers excellent acting, excellent moments of tension and excellent use of emotion which ,when you leave the theatre, won't be difficult to feel at all.

    Now if you're still considering whether or not you should go and see this film, let's address the rumours you might have already heard:

    1.There's been a lot of talk about Tom Hanks potentially claiming another Oscar - yes he simply HAS to be up for contention after this. True in the first half of the film he doesn't necessarily have to be all out emotional, but he does enough so that when we reach the second half and ultimately the final act, we are in as much shock and awe as the character of Richard Phillips through watching his performance.

    2. A few people have said "too much Tom Hanks." There's two sides to this: Obviously he's going to be in the story a lot because he is the star BUT he doesn't give the only good performance here; the Somali pirates are truly terrifying, not just because of what they are but because their characters have a lot of uncertainty making them very unpredictable.

    3. Some people are saying it's overrated and we've seen it all before. I'm not claiming its the greatest movie ever made, but what I am saying is its definitely worth a look.

    So if you're worried about wasting some cash don't be, it's definitely a film you won't regret paying for.

    More about the movie you can also find it here
    http://movieinfodb.com/en/movie/109424/Captain+Phillips-2013

  • Carcotas | January 10, 2014 7:53 PMReply

    It's fair to say that the movies which have been walking away with Box Office numbers this year have been either big superhero movies or big sci-fi movies. If you're wondering whether or not you should go and see this film because it looks like something a little different DO IT! This is a film, regardless if you already know the story, which delivers excellent acting, excellent moments of tension and excellent use of emotion which ,when you leave the theatre, won't be difficult to feel at all.

    Now if you're still considering whether or not you should go and see this film, let's address the rumours you might have already heard:

    1.There's been a lot of talk about Tom Hanks potentially claiming another Oscar - yes he simply HAS to be up for contention after this. True in the first half of the film he doesn't necessarily have to be all out emotional, but he does enough so that when we reach the second half and ultimately the final act, we are in as much shock and awe as the character of Richard Phillips through watching his performance.

    2. A few people have said "too much Tom Hanks." There's two sides to this: Obviously he's going to be in the story a lot because he is the star BUT he doesn't give the only good performance here; the Somali pirates are truly terrifying, not just because of what they are but because their characters have a lot of uncertainty making them very unpredictable.

    3. Some people are saying it's overrated and we've seen it all before. I'm not claiming its the greatest movie ever made, but what I am saying is its definitely worth a look.

    So if you're worried about wasting some cash don't be, it's definitely a film you won't regret paying for.

    More about the movie you can also find it here
    http://movieinfodb.com/en/movie/109424/Captain+Phillips-2013

  • NinaG | October 4, 2013 7:35 PMReply

    An A- ??? Which version of Captain Phillips did you see? Honestly, if you value Black lives (or even just well-written narratives) do not waste your money on this film.

  • amo | October 4, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    Americans are still really, really into captivity narratives.

  • deecreative | October 1, 2013 8:11 PMReply

    I would love to see a movie about how Somali pirates become pirates, K'naan does speak about it and there has been illegal dumping, but to be from Somalia and taking on huge tankers in small boats, that takes GUTS! I think I'm going to go see this movie because it looks good and I'll look at from a movie goer perspective and enjoy 'an action movie' especially sense it's based on an actual event.

  • Gary C. | October 5, 2013 11:29 AM

    The reason these people became "pirates" was because they sat by and watched the dumping of illegal materials off the coast and destroying their way of life that was fishing. With no recourse for justice, they started doing what they thought they had to.

  • spirit equality | October 1, 2013 5:05 PMReply

    Was there any attempt to address the motivation of the pirates? My understanding (via Ka'Naan) was that they initially began committing acts of "piracy" to stop ships from dumping illegally off of the Somalian coast, in the absence of a Somalian Navy to prevent such acts.

  • mr dobie | October 1, 2013 10:25 AMReply

    So let's see what we've got here. Some wild eyed black Africans vs Tom Hanks + the USA military for 2 and half hours of screen time. The wild eyed black folks get their heads blown off at the end (this is no spoiler, film is based on well known true story) and Hanks gets to ponder what is often the thin line between life and death. Yep, as a black cinema goer I'm going to rush to see this film as fast as I can.

  • Elle | October 2, 2013 1:48 PM

    A theorist once said that all films directly respond to the global/societal times in which they are created. I think this movie appears to be one more in the long line of films that have come out in the past couple years depicting how white people generally, and America more specifically, are under attack/invasion by dark Others. You know any trailer where the white dude says "if they get up the ladder, it's too late!" about some black people is about to be some ridiculousness. And yes, I saw a trailer where Tom Hanks' character said some close approximation to that.

  • ImABlackPoem | October 1, 2013 7:56 AMReply

    I've been waiting for this film...I can't wait to see it! Your review has me even more pumped up!

  • Zulusailor | October 1, 2013 4:47 AMReply

    As a ship's captain frequently trading in the Gulf of Aden area, I can vouch for the authenticity of the maritime and piracy scenes. In many respects they are terrifyingly lifelike.

    With the tragic recent events in Nairobi and East Africa over the last few days, the movie has become especially topical and relevant. For more intuitive background to this sad part of the world and the life of pirates and those seafarers working in the area, check out Amazon Books - 'The Megiddo Revenge' http://tinyurl.com/njdrna5

  • NOS | October 1, 2013 2:26 AMReply

    Finally, a rating with the review. Nice one, S&A!

  • slb | October 2, 2013 9:58 PM

    I agree. Can you guys put a grade rating for all full reviews you do?

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