Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: Captain Phillips

Paul Greengrass is the modern-day master of gritty you-are-there cinema.  With his trademark handheld shaky cam style he is able to bring viewers right up close and personal with the action and tension on screen.  United 93 and the second two Bourne movies are examples of his ability to bring real-time action directly to the audience with no filter.  Borrowing from a true story of naval pirating, Greengrass gives us his latest gripping tale in Captain Phillips which features excellent performances from both a trusted veteran and a surprising newcomer.

Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, the helmsman of the Maersk Alabama, a freight liner that was seized by Somali pirates in 2010.  Phillips is taken hostage by four pirates and a final confrontation eventually takes place between Phillips, his captors and the US Navy.  A la United 93, Greengrass chronicles the events of the pirating in chronological order from the initial airport drop off (featuring a brief but real performance by Catherine Keener as Phillips' wife) to the final stand-off between the Navy Seals and the Somalis.  Needless to say, Greengrass is on-point again in this film, giving us a no-frills raw and gritty look at what the Somalis try to pull off to survive in their war-torn country.  We get an authentic look at how a large freight vessel operates through the intricate interactions between captain and crew.  The tension builds as the small Somali boat gives chase with a large-yet-helpless crew on board without weapons.  The third act of the film which takes place in a confined lifeboat seems a bit too long and I imagine it could have been cut some to tighten up the 2-hour-plus runtime.

Hanks is the star of the show once again as he embodies the New England bravado and resolve of Phillips quite well.  His final scene after the bloody climactic showdown in which he breaks down while being questioned in front of naval officers might honestly be the best scene he's ever acted in.  The audience is able to totally feel the horror and gravity of the events that Phillips has just gone through.  Expect Tom to be nominated by the Academy once again for a 6th time in an attempt to win his 3rd acting statue.  The revelation in this movie though is rookie actor Barkhad Abdi, a Somalia native and Minneapolis resident who steals just about every scene he's in with his portrayal of Somali pirate leader Muse.  With a gaunt ultra-thin face and piercing eyes, he conveys a sense of desperation and determination at pleasing his Somali bosses by pulling off the heist of the Alabama.  Towards the end of the film we almost feel a small piece of sympathy for Muse as he seems to treat the Captain with more respect than his fellow captors.  I'm not sure if Abdi will remain in the acting profession, but this role was absolutely perfect for him and he somehow manages (in his first performance) to stand toe-to-toe with a two-time Oscar winner.

Captain Phillips is a wonderful thrill ride and gives us an authentic snapshot of the haves and have-nots of America and Somalia.  Bouyed by a strong performance from a living legend and the care of director who knows his strengths, this film earns a solid 4.5 out of 5 JRs.  It's worth watching in the theater as the intense action scenes will be amplified on the big screen.  The quality of movies this month has been outstanding and I've seen three of my favorite movies of 2013 in the past few weeks.  It looks like what started as a dull year for movies is finishing with a bang.  The next film on my hit list is 12 Years a Slave which looks to be on a collision course with Gravity for Oscar accolades.

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