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Anatomy of a Scene: Oscar-Nominated Editor Christopher Rouse Talks the Pivotal Attack in 'Captain Phillips'

Interviews
by Bill Desowitz
January 29, 2014 2:05 PM
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When the sequence begins, the mood is anticipatory and tense as Phillips is alerted to the impending threat and then goes to the bridge. Greengrass and Rouse consulted with composer Henry Jackman and his team about how to underpin Phillips' emotional state musically, and there's a very simple rhythmic wood block element that is introduced here. Rouse says it's evocative of Phillips' heartbeat, and it begins to accelerate as the looming threat increases. Muse (Abdi) and his crew are then introduced in a fairly straightforward way, reflecting their confidence and resolve as they approach the Alabama. 

"We then return to the bridge as Quinn [Corey Johnson] arrives and Phillips alerts U.S. Maritime Emergency. Here the camera moves are a bit more active and the cuts a bit more edgy as the tension increases. As Phillips readies the Alabama's hoses to defend the ship, Muse's crew prods him to act, and their goading gradually builds to a crescendo when Muse orders them to open fire. Once violence erupts, the rhythms and shot dynamics become much more aggressive. But despite the chaos, it was important to maintain clarity and feel the characters' desperation as they fought for the prize -- the Alabama. And so I tried to articulate those moves as best I could while keeping us in the characters' points of view." 

A few examples include Phillips and crew getting the upper hand when Muse and his team are temporarily thwarted by the water from the hoses, but then Phillips is made vulnerable by the slipped hose and forced to respond. Phillips comes close to hitting the skiff with the flare, only to have the Somalis fire back, nearly killing him. The Somalis try relentlessly to get their skiff alongside the Alabama to attach their ladder, and Phillips counters by turning the ship to hit them. 

"But since they weren't shooting in a controlled environment, imposing structure on that incredibly bold footage wasn't always easy. In the end, it was critical that the climax to the sequence was delivered strongly -- that moment when Muse jumps from the skiff on to the ladder. Not only in a narrative sense because the antagonists had achieved their goal, but in thematic importance as well. Because that's when Phillips' world changed -- it had been successfully invaded by a band of determined young men from an impoverished country."

Overall, Rouse says it was important to keep the characters rich and specific throughout, no matter how kinetic the action was. "If we lost our connection with the characters, we would have lost our emotional investment. We also would have lost the accumulation of stakes and tension, and consequently the film would have lost much of its power."

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