Review: Captain Phillips
PLOT: The true story of Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) who-as the captain of the merchant marine vessel the Maersk Alabama- was taken hostage by Somali Pirates.
REVIEW: CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is vintage Tom Hanks. By that I mean that CAPTAIN PHILLIPS proves, now and forever, that despite a series of underwhelming movies (THE DAVINCI CODE, ANGELS & DEMONS, LARRY CROWNE) Tom Hanks is still at the top of his game. This is likely his best role since ROAD TO PERDITION, and a movie that's all but guaranteed to put him back in the best actor race at the Oscars, for the first time since CAST AWAY in 2000.
A fact-based thriller, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is edge-of-your-seat stuff, regardless of how familiar you are with the true story behind Captain Phillips' ordeal with the pirates. Director Paul Greengrass marries his cinema verité-style from UNITED 93 with the audience-pleasing appeal of the BOURNE films to deliver a movie that should please both the crowds and the critics.
It helps that CAPTAIN PHILLIPS feels like a role that couldn't possibly have been played by anyone but Hanks. He really embodies the American every-man, and playing Phillips, he's incredibly personable and easy to identify with. Unlike a lot of other directors, Greengrass never succumbs to melodrama. There are no cutaways to Phillips' family back home (his wife, played by Catherine Keener, is only briefly shown) keeping the film confined to what is happening at sea. It's not needed, and despite running a lengthy 130 minutes, Greengrass keeps the film moving at an exceptionally fast pace. Likewise, Hanks' performance as Phillips feels incredibly disciplined and authentic, with Phillips maintaining a mostly stoic demeanour until late in the film.
One of the most intriguing things about Greengrass' approach is the compassion and empathy he shows the Somali pirates. In a more jingoistic film, they would have been cardboard baddies, but Greengrass (and screenwriter Billy Ray) portray them in a three-dimensional way that- while not excusing their crimes- makes you understand their motivations. Greengrass avoids being preachy, but it's a necessary element that would have been absent from many other films. As the head pirate, Barkhad Abdi doesn't play a caricature or a two-dimensional monster, and if anything, knowing the motivations behind his crimes, and seeing his life back in Somalia makes his actions even more chilling, as we know he's got nothing to lose.
At the same time, this does not at all condone their actions. Clearly, Greengrass is portraying them as bad guys and not misunderstood victims of circumstance, which is nicely addressed by Phillips himself later in the film. The audience's sympathy is kept squarely with the resourceful and clever Captain, and Hanks's everyman heroism is comparable to the types of performances given by actors like Henry Fonda or James Stewart in their prime. Greengrass never goes too over the top by idealizing Phillips (a quick scene depicts him as a tough taskmaster at sea with union troubles), but it's clear that this is a character we're meant to identify with, and root for, which we certainly do.
Like the BOURNE's, Greengrass isn't above staging some high-octane action, and the climatic SEAL assault is comparable to what Katherine Bigalow accomplished with ZERO DARK THIRTY. The tension is ramped up to almost unbearable levels throughout, although at the same time, it doesn't feel too Hollywood and comes off as reasonably authentic (although really- who knows?).
Technically, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is as accomplished as any of Greengrass' other films, with the usual realistic cinematography from Barry Ackroyd, and a stirring score by Henry Jackman (doing a great job filling-in for Greengrass regular John Powell). My only issue is that, as usual with a Greengrass movie, the camera never stops jumping around, although by this point that's just Greengrass' style, and to be fair, it's less obvious here than in the last BOURNE or THE GREEN ZONE.
All told, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is another top-notch entry into an already amazing awards season. It's right-in-line with the best both Greengrass and Hanks have to offer, providing them both with a vehicle that allows them to perform at the top of their game. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS should not be missed.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...