Movie Review: Captain Phillips

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Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, David Warshofsky

Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use , Running time 134 minutes, Crime/Drama

Compare to: United 93 (2006)

Director Paul Greengrass has a love of filming things as close to life as they can be without being documentaries. The shaky camera, the ever-absent dramatic music, the naturalistic dialogue that allow actors to fumble over their words in mid-sentence; it all just works well for the highly suspenseful yet grounded take on whatever film he’s shooting.

That being said, Captain Phillips is a tough one to figure out. Well acted, yes. Well paced, yes. This “based on a true story” exploit of a man taken hostage by Somalian pirates feels intense, yet I was still left wondering what I was supposed to take away from it all.

Captain Richard Phillips is on a routine cargo shipment off the coast of Somalia when he is boarded by four pirates that wish to make some money off of the American crew. After the plan goes awry, Captain Phillips is taken hostage and forced to make life-and-death decisions with every second that passes.

Insert infamous "My GOD" line here.

Insert infamous “GOD in heaven” line here.

The biggest thing with “based a true story” films is to divide between what happened in real life…and what happened in the movie. People can’t help it. Hollywood has “tricked” them so many times into believing a semi-true story is the most intense, dramatic scenario anyone in memory has ever been a part of.

So while the real Captain Phillips doesn’t deny that he didn’t give himself as a hostage (he claims he was already a hostage by the point in the film where he sacrifices his freedom), and he’d ignored warnings to stay away from the Somalian coastline. These things aside, the film isn’t meant to be a documentary even if certain people are willing to take everything to heart immediately, should it be held against the film? Maybe if the film had reached “The Butler” levels of creative exaggeration. But it doesn’t.

But the most important question for the film- is it entertaining?

"Please. If you're going to kill me, kill my crew too. They can't live without me."

“Please. If you’re going to kill me, kill my crew too. They can’t live without me.”

Yes, it is. Even if you’re familiar with the true story that occurred in April 2009, it’s still interesting to know what took place, and how. The dialogue, the realism, the setting- it all feels like it’s in the here and now, leading you to wonder what’s going to happen next, even if you know how it ends.

So what’s holding Captain Phillips back at all? It could be that the real-world setting is so real that the story-telling gets a bit lost in the narrative. As I mentioned, I don’t know what to take away from the movie other than “Wow, wonder if that’s how it really happened.” Were there themes of love, hope, or persistence maybe? I didn’t pick up on any of that, leading me to wonder what I was meant to get from it.

Survival is part of human nature? The will to live is everything? I’m not sure.

Five guys roasting in a lifeboat is smelly? That's something I took away.

Five guys roasting in a lifeboat is smelly? That’s something I took away.

Tom Hanks does a great job as usual, at portraying a regular guy that gets put in an extraordinary situation, taking us down a tunnel that may or may not have a light at the end of it. I imagine the type of stress it would take to perform a role like this as most of his lines and actions include crying, yelling, dealing with high-intensity situations and the like. I wouldn’t say it’s the role of Hanks’ career, but it’s far from a low-point either.

The pirates do a good job here too, as their emaciated looks and broken English are so difficult to understand at times that you’ll wonder if they hired men who were familiar with the lifestyle in reality. Moving from their tiny raft to the ship like a pack of starving rats, the scenes that feature their own crew fighting amongst themselves feel especially threatening because if the desperate antagonists don’t even get along with themselves, what’s to stop them from taking out the innocent crew?

All in all, if you’re a fan of Hanks, or director Paul Greengrass’ handheld camera style, check it out. But if you’re in the mood for a film that will leave more of an impact on you, you may want to wait.

Grade: B-

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