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The UnPopular Opinion: Captain Phillips

07.02.2015

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

As we near Independence Day here in the United States, we often reflect on films about American heroes who survived against all costs. There are numerous films about such individuals, several of whom have been played by Tom Hanks. From SAVING PRIVATE RYAN to PHILADELPHIA, Hanks has portrayed characters who represent the best in who we are as people and unites us as viewers. With Hanks circling the Clint Eastwood film about the Miracle on the Hudson, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a similar role in the true story film CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

Let me make sure I start this out clearly and say that despite all of the laurels tossed at it, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is not a great movie. It is barely tolerable as a film and is depressingly one note in it's execution. Coming from director Paul Greengrass, I expected a lot more out of this movie. Instead of a powerful tale about Somali pirates and the rescue of Phillips, the movie is instead a bundle of shaky camera shots and one powerful scene. To consider all of this an Oscar caliber film is an insult to movie audiences everywhere.

The existence of pirates off the coast of Somalia has been a common news topic for years. When the events of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS took place, the news was in regular rotation around the globe as the stand-off was both dramatic and the rescue thrilling. There have been several books written about this particular hijacking, including one by Phillips himself. Where the film goes wrong is in focusing solely on Phillips ordeal and ignoring the myriad of plot threads outside of the ship. In fact, every character aside from Phillips and his captor, Abduwali Muse, feels like a cardboard cutout put in place to keep the movie from feeling like a two-man stage play set on a ship.

While screenwriter Billy Ray wrote the film, I place the hefty amount of blame on Greengrass. Best known for THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, Greengrass has directed three films based on true stories. The fictionalized thriller GREEN ZONE is a great example of telling a tale rooted in truth while BLOODY SUNDAY is a masterful drama about a terrible chapter in Irish history. But, it is his 9/11 film UNITED 93 that should have served as a template for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. Set primarily on the tragic flight that crashed in Pennsylvania thanks to the heroic efforts of those aboard the plane. What made that film work was the balance of events both on and off the hijacked plane to give a more rounded view of what transpired. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS feels rooted in Phillips' own experiences rather than outside of it as well.

I have a problem with Greengrass' visual style to begin with as his reliance on handheld, verite filmmaking can often obscure what is happening on screen. With CAPTAIN PHILLIPS already set on seacraft, the additional shaking of the camera makes it almost impossible to pay attention through the film. At over 130 minutes, it becomes tedious to watch the same scenes play out over and over again. Greengrass' focus on Hanks and Barkhad Abdi does make for some genuinely powerful moments on screen, but when the camera follows the other crew-members or hijackers, it almost feels obligatory until he can pan back to his two stars. A better title for this film would have been PHILLIPS AND MUSE as that is pretty much what this movie amounts to.

Hanks and Abdi were both nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS with, in my opinion, only Abdi being deserving. Without any other screen credits prior to this film, Abdi almost feels like he is translating his real life experiences growing up in Somalia and how his countrymen involved in pirating felt and lived. Hanks, on the other hand, could have done so much more. The problem is that Phillips is just not a very interesting person. You could argue that the normalcy of Phillips in an extraordinary situation is what makes him interesting, but casting someone as talented and high profile as Tom Hanks pulls away from what Phillips endured. You keep waiting for him to do something, but he just ends up stammering and doing his job. The crux of Hanks' performance comes down to his final scene in the film after being rescued. It is in that moment and that moment only that Hanks truly earns his recognition for his role. But, one scene does not a movie make.

While the stakes are different, Kathryn Bigelow's ZERO DARK THIRTY is a much more powerful and well-made portrait of characters involved in a real life military operation. Greengrass executes the closing SEAL rescue with panache and an eye for action, but the build-up in the preceding two hours is just not there. While there is definitely a story to be told about Somalia and the plague of pirates on the shores of that country, this was not the tale worth telling. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a bland and generic film that suffers from a reliance on flag-waving movie audiences who can overlook a vanilla film because of the powerful ending. I expected a lot more out of everyone involved in this film and look forward to someone telling a similar story in a much better way.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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