Sunday, October 6, 2013

Captain Phillips - Review

Captain Phillips – Review

Tom Hanks once again slides into his everyday man role that his career has come to be uniquely defined by with his latest portrayal in the true story of Captain Richard Phillips 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of his US flagged cargo ship the Maersk Alabama.

Directed by Paul Greengrass who brought us “The Bourne Supremacy”, “Flight 93” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” Greengrass has a proven track record of mastering the start of film plots with a keenly sharp and focused lens on what his movies are all about. He also provides a paralleled presentation of characters that have an interesting above brow, multi faceted quality to their persona all the while securing a common man empathetic relatedness for the audience to care about their well being i.e. Jason Bourne.

At the early start of “Captain Phillips” we see he has a heightened sense of foreboding about his latest tour around the horn of Africa, largely enhanced by recent news reports of cargo ships being targeted by pirates. For Phillips the danger he senses is not only something new but is genuinely real; wrought with justifiable deep seeded concerns manifested by his insistence in the film  to rehearsing the ships security protocol for a possible worst case scenario. Hanks acting interpretations and prowess are on full display here by his effective through the paces ability to calculatingly transfer this same sense of foreboding directly towards the movie viewing audience for them to experience as well.

From the Somali side we see men preparing their ships as well for what to them is their job too. Only in their instance their preparedness is not simply framed in pedestrian terms of going through ship protocols as a means to a legitimate working man’s trade, instead for these Somali men we see they are preparing their ships in the hopes of securing enough funds for their basic human  subsistence, as well as a parallel need to alleviate themselves from the  perpetual threats from ruling Somali war lords who with forcible duress insist these same impoverished men earn their expected millions in ransom piracy dollars or run the risk of dying.    

So the movie Captain Phillips stage is set, and once the inevitable happens with the pirates eventually capturing control of the Maersk Alabama, what ensues for the first half of the 2:13 minutes total running time is a case of high stakes - high seas cat and mouse mind games, threats, beatings and trickery played by the two respective captains against one another in order to gain the upper hand in this life and death struggle. In the second half of the movie the United States Navy – Navy Seals are introduced taking on the role of a collective third character in this stand off of what now is a full blown maritime battle of masculine wills.

Generally, Captain Phillips is a very entertaining movie effort to watch and it does a lot of things very well, especially capturing the vast isolation of the ocean as its backdrop and yet additionally capturing the claustrophobia juxtaposition of cramp close quarters of men moving about in mammoth sized looking ships. Also the story does an effective turn on the highly skilled training of the United States Navy to cleverly, strategically and technologically be able to execute both figuratively and literally their mission.

What I had a few minor problems with this highly anticipated film was an overall bloat with what felt like too many facts from myopic editing, seemingly providing literally a running verbatim transcript account of every single conversation, exchange, threat and counter threat uttered during this prolonged ordeal, making for me a screenplay dialog that felt at times redundant. Such is the case and examples were the numerous times the Somalis threaten to kill Captain Phillips with what had to be well over 25 plus times.  For me it started to feel insincere with so many taunts and murderous threats, that beyond a certain point in the film it starts to lose its effectiveness as being something potentially immediate or genuinely ominous.

In addition the music soundtrack seemed to be misguided in trying to use drums and ethnic rhythms to create a richer cultural link to the Somalis characters unique brand of sinisterly antagonist intentions. To me it would have been far more effective to simply use silence; no dialog, no music at all to build the right measure of anxiety I think Greengrass wanted to convey.

Greengrass is gifted with strong directing techniques, but here they get bogged down a bit by what I felt was an unconscious attempt to emulate the skillful execution of similarly plot films such as the successful Zero Dark Thirty and Argo films of a year ago. If you compare the three stories they do share the same procedural connect the dots to its execution and to its resolution, from beginning to the very end; almost mirroring each other in this regard. Only in Captain Phillips case what is missing is the slow emotional soaring crescendo swell of mission accomplished. Why?  I think Captain Phillips seemed to work way too hard to make 95% of the film an even handed fair playing field from the Somalis perspective, from Captain Phillips perspective and of course from the US Navy’s perspective, sharing what I felt was mutual relevance to all three players afoot. Thusly, l felt a void of what should have been a full feeling of overwhelming excitement at its victorious conclusion “Yea the good guys won”.  Instead, I managed to care and have joy for its heroic finally, its just I did not have as much of that feeling as I should have, leaving me ultimately somewhat underwhelmed instead. My guess the reason is Greengrass didn’t make the film sharper and shorter and therefore the stakes didn’t feel as high with his insistence of sharing so much screen time with so many characters.

In the end Captain Phillips is still a solid and compelling piece of cinematic theater. Also Tom Hanks reminds us again he is a superb actor who can carry a film, delivering real dramatic weight from beginning to end and also establishes Hanks as one of a few actors working today who is a hero via his use of intellect and visceral strengths without a reliance of any use of physical might or brutality. 

3 – 3/4 Stars

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