Movie Review: Captain Phillips

I get so tired of action movies sometimes. After so many instances endless car chases, gunfights, explosions, and cut-and-paste CGI effects, I tend to long for some good old-fashioned suspense.  I’ve always enjoyed scenes where you’re terrified of what will happen next, where any second could instantly change the course of the entire story with a single gunshot or spoken word.  Some of the best know how to draw out that feeling through the entire movie and director Paul Greengrass can count himself amongst them with his semi-true story outing, “Captain Phillips.”

Set in 2009, the film follows Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his crew aboard the MV Maersk Alabama as they travel to Mombasa, Kenya.  With 17,000 metric tons of cargo, including 5,000 tons of third-world relief supplies, the ship is an ideal target for Somali piracy.  To Phillips’s dread, this very danger occurs as four Somalis (Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali) board the ship and take the bridge hostage.  After offering the pirates $300,000 to leave in peace, Phillips finally agrees to leave with the Somalis as a hostage to spare the rest of the crew.  Over the next several days, Phillips must use his resourcefulness to survive as the U.S. marines impatiently wait for the right opportunity to bring down the pirates without harming the good captain.

It has to be said that while the filmmakers and the real Richard Phillips insist that the events depicted in the movie are as close to the truth as on-screen storytelling could possibly get, this is quite possibly untruthful.  Members of the crew have claimed that treating Phillips like an American hero in the media was the result of a self-glorifying book he wrote after the incident, and all of the claims are damnably consistent.  Some research will tell that the real Captain Phillips did not adhere to certain safety regulations to avoid the situation altogether; for example, they were warned several times to stay 600 kilometers away from the African coast, but he stayed within 300 and recklessly exposed them to attack.  It was also stated that it was the engineer who told the crew to hide, rather than Phillips, while the captain was dragged away with the pirates as a totally unwilling hostage.  It is always important to know the truth behind what is depicted in cinema, so that history does not become remembered incorrectly for generations to come, which is why I pointed these facts out.  However, cinema is a naturally fictional medium, so I will not criticize Captain Phillips based on factual representation, but based on how the story itself is told in a cinematic format.

The acting is solid across the board.  Regardless as to whether the depiction is accurate or not, Tom Hanks never misses a beat as a believable and likeable man who is willing to put the men at his command before his own interests.  The four actors playing the Somali pirates were also commendable, both appropriately intimidating in most scenes, yet oddly sympathetic in a few.  The remaining cast is not given much to do, although they do serviceable jobs with what they were given.

The cinematography looks good and does well to set the mood of whatever situation is taking place onscreen.  Viewers have to remember, though, that Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”) directed this film, so that means a very shaky camera.  A shaky camera works in action scenes to enhance the feeling of danger, but it becomes extremely distracting whenever it’s used for every single shot, which is how they shot this film.  If not for the shaky camera in every scene, along with uncomfortable close-ups, the actors’ expressions would be easier to read and the scenery easier to observe and appreciate.

Greengrass delivers again with his latest action/suspense flick.  The actors are spot-on, the effects are realistic, and the intensity never lets up without becoming tiresome.  Apart from a few little hiccups, including a needlessly shaky camera, “Captain Phillips” is an effectively tense spectacle that’s sure to please anyone above the age of 13.

I give Captain Phillips 4 Stars out of 5

About Brady Gorman
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