Monday, October 28, 2013
Based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips and Stephan Tatly, Captain Phillips is the true story about a merchant freighter captain whose ship is taken hostage by Somali pirates as he tries to deal with the pirates and keep his crew safe. Directed by Paul Greengrass and screenplay by Billy Ray, the film is a look into how a man tries to maintain a peaceful situation while being captured by pirates as he is trying to keep his crew safe as Tom Hanks plays the titular role. Also starring Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, David Warshofsky, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, and Corey Thompson. Captain Phillips is a gripping yet mesmerizing film from Paul Greengrass.
The film is based on a real-life incident in 2009 where Captain Richard Phillips is leading a freighter cargo ship on the coast of Somalia where he and his crew have to deal with a small band of pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Muse and his small band of brothers do whatever to get on board where they succeed and take over the ship while Phillips tries to protect his crew and make sure no one is killed. It’s a film that plays into this real-life situation where Phillips is aware that they’re in dangerous territory as he informs his crew of the situation they have to face where it becomes very real. Even as he has to do a lot of negotiating and such to ensure his crew’s safety and give these pirates what they want without hurting anyone.
Billy Ray’s screenplay may have a traditional structure of sorts but it strays from convention where it plays into moments of real-time. The first act shows Phillips’ life at home with his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) as well as the dreary world of these Somali pirates as they’re in need to make money in order to survive as Muse is someone who has experience in piracy. Phillips is aware of what he’s facing as he and his crew would encounter pirates in the first act where Muse’s first attempt with another boat doesn’t go well until he gets an idea to make his second attempt where he and his small crew succeed. Much of the film’s second act is about Phillips trying to ensure Muse that he’s not going cause trouble as his crew hide out where they’re not trying to make any attempts to do anything heroic or else someone gets killed.
Adding to the chaos in script is that there’s an element in the battle of wits between Muse and Phillips where there’s a bit of mutual respect for each other as Phillips knows that Muse is no fool and Muse is aware of Phillips determination to stay alive once the U.S. Navy gets involved. With Phillips captured on his own in a lifeboat with the pirates, it becomes this even bigger game where the pirates have to deal and negotiate with the Navy though it’s a showdown that doesn’t get any easier where Ray creates a bigger complexity in the script as well as reveal that there’s no such thing as heroes or villains in this story.
Paul Greengrass’ direction is very engaging for the way he presents the film as if a real-life situation is happening. Going for that cinema verite approach with hand-held cameras and close-ups, Greengrass maintains a lot of simplicity and intimacy for most of the film where it showcases life on a freighter cargo ship. Even as he creates some images to show a world where men do their job and keep themselves safe as they’re aware of the situations they might have to deal with. Once the pirates come into the story, Greengrass adds that air of suspense into the story where he keeps the camera in tact to both the little engine boats the pirates are in as well as the big ship to see how it would maneuver itself into getting away from the pirates.
The suspense definitely intensifies in its second and third act where the moments of violence are low-key but also chilling to see what a crew member will do to see if he just hides or do something knowing how tense the situation is. By the time the film moves into the lifeboat, there is this air of claustrophobia and tension that occurs while it is inter-cut with these images of the Navy trying to figure out how to create a situation and make sure they save Phillips life as even Phillips himself tries to fight his way. Even as he encounters moments where he could’ve died but the Muse character knows that if he’s killed, they all die. That sense of intensity in the suspense and the sense of something could go wrong occurs throughout the film as it leads to this very harrowing climax. Overall, Greengrass crafts a very engrossing yet captivating thriller about a ship captain’s willingness to survive against pirates.
Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd does fantastic work with the film‘s cinematography where it has this air of grain to play into something that feels real as well as using some low-key lights and such for the scenes in the lifeboat as well as the scenes inside the Naval ships. Editor Christopher Rouse does brilliant work with the editing with its use of rhythmic and methodical cuts to play into the suspense as well as the conversations between Muse and Phillips in their game of wits. Production designer Paul Kirby does superb work with the minimal set pieces from the look of the boat the pirates are in before they attempt to capture something to the interiors of the freighter and the lifeboat.
Costume designer Mark Bridges does nice work with the costumes as it’s mostly casual for the crew while the pirates ragged clothing showcase the world they come from and how desperate they are. Visual effects supervisors Richard Kidd, Charlie Noble, and Adam Rowland do terrific work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects such as the backdrops for some of the exteriors settings. Sound editor Oliver Tarney does amazing work with the sound to play into the tense atmosphere that occurs in the ship as well as the sounds of sirens and ocean waves to play into the film‘s suspense. The film’s music by Henry Jackman is wonderful for its ominous yet enchanting orchestral score to play into the film’s suspense and drama that happens throughout the film.
The casting by Francine Maisler is marvelous for the ensemble that is created as it features some noteworthy small performances from Catherine Keener as Phillips’ wife Andrea, Yul Vasquez as a naval commander trying to negotiate Captain Phillips’ safety, Max Martini as U.S. Navy SEAL commander, Chris Mulkey as the senior crew member John Cronan, Corey Johnson as the helmsman Ken Quinn, David Warshofsky as chief engineer Mike Perry, and Michael Chernus as Phillips’ first officer Shane Murphy. Mahat M. Ali, Faysal Ahmed, and Barkhad Abdirahman are great as the three hijackers who try to maintain control while pondering about what to do with Captain Phillips. Barkhad Abdi is brilliant as the pirates leader Muse who tries to maintain some control of the situation though he is also not a fool as Abdi just has this very unique presence that makes him terrifying but also compelling as he makes the character sort of cool for the fact that he’s very determined.
Finally, there’s Tom Hanks in the titular role as it’s a performance that proves into why Hanks is one of American cinema’s great actors. Hanks has this everyman quality that allows his character to be engaging while he maintains a sense of cool in the way he handles his situation. It’s definitely a performance that shows Hanks just being calm and cool while showing that he also has an edge to him which proves that he is still one of the best actors working today.
Captain Phillips is a tremendous film from Paul Greengrass that features an incredible performance from Tom Hanks. Told in a very direct and gripping style with a cast that is solid including a major discovery in Barkhad Abdi. While it doesn’t feature anything new that Greengrass has done, it does however maintain that only he could make a film like this that is filled with suspense as well as a real-life story without sugar-coating it. In the end, Captain Phillips is a spectacular film from Paul Greengrass.
Paul Greengrass Films: (Resurrected) - (Open Fire) - (The One That Got Away) - (The Fix) - (The Theory of Flight) - Bloody Sunday - (The Bourne Supremacy) - United 93 - (The Bourne Ultimatum) - (Green Zone)
© thevoid99 2013
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Probably Hanks' best performance in a decade, which is great because he's been sort of slacking as of late. Hopefully this performance, along with the possibility of TWO Oscar nominations this year may give him more reasons to choose more daring material for his talents. Nice review Steve.
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