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Captain Phillips

Movie Information

The Story: The true story of a sea captain who’s taken captive by Somali pirates. The Lowdown: A shallow thriller that’s bogged down by attempts at grandeur and the distinct odor of Oscar bait.
Score:

Genre: Fact-based Thriller
Director: Paul Greengrass (Green Zone)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Michael Chernus, Catherine Keener
Rated: PG-13

For proof that we’re about to rush headlong into awards season, look no further than Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, our first true work of unabashed Oscar bait. The film is an occasionally solid enough thriller based on the true events of a sea captain taken for ransom by Somali pirates. Unfortunately, the film’s too often a mixed bag, saddled with certain wonky pretensions that are at odds with its inherently shallow nature — something that often detracts from its occasional noteworthy strength: suspense.

Obviously, a lot of the blame should be placed on Greengrass, and not just because of his usual shaky-cam style. Despite some theaters warning patrons who suffer from motion sickness beforehand (making a movie that induces physical illness seems a bit counterintuitive, perhaps), Greengrass’ style is, per usual, negligible. What he has is an extremely simple, overlong story that he attempts to imbue with depth, but doesn’t quite know how. The film opens with some hamfisted foreshadowing, as our titular Captain (Tom Hanks) and his wife (Catherine Keener) discuss how the times, they are a-changin’. Not long after, we get to the film’s first unintentionally funny moment, as Phillips, who’s about to captain a cargo ship down the east coast of Africa, is mapping his route. The camera slowly zooms in on the words “SOMALI BASIN” on the map as ominous music swells in the background.

Once Phillips’ ship is — yep — besieged by a small group of Somali pirates and we get to the actual thriller aspects, which take an inordinate amount of time to kick in, the film is on stronger footing. Greengrass, however, can’t decide if he’s making a popcorn flick or an important work of cinema. He ends up with neither. The closest thing we get to depth is the head pirate, Muse (newcomer Barhad Abdi), and his vague allusions to the American Dream. Greengrass never has the sense — or perhaps the chutzpah — to really get his hands dirty and make a statement. Instead, he just hints at it. He skirts around what might drive some Somalis into violence, kidnapping and piracy, but never really meets it head on. The film’s morality lies too much in black and white, as the pirate crew is divided into scary, angry Africans and “good ones” like Muse. Natural aspects within the script that could’ve added shading in more capable hands are an afterthought here — like comparisons between Phillips’ union crew and Muse dealing with his “bosses,” or the only outcome for these Africans being shot to death or arrested. Greengrass wants to say things, but he doesn’t want to piss anyone off either.

Of course, this is a Tom Hanks movie, so that level of politicization is impossible. The character of Captain Phillips is a shallow creation whose sympathy exists solely because he has a family (which we hear about onscreen for all of three minutes) and that he’s played by Hanks, who we’re conditioned as moviegoers to love. While I can occasionally enjoy Hanks, this is a film that plays to his worst tendencies — acting as an obvious, shameless awards showcase. Without even mentioning the Massachusetts accent he affects, we get some pretty inexplicably goofy moments in a film that takes itself very seriously. Coming from a man who once won an Academy Award for playing a mentally challenged Ping-Pong master, we get not one, but two of the most embarrassingly silly moments of Hanks career at the end of the film as he angles for an Oscar. This will probably work better for most people (one woman sitting in front of me was openly weeping), but to me, the entire film’s intentions were far too transparent. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images and substance use.

Playing at Carmike 10

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4 thoughts on “Captain Phillips

  1. Steven

    The last five minutes is Hanks’ best moment. Whatever faults this film contains (and there are plenty), those final minutes made my experience worth it. That was some of the finest acting I’ve seen in some time, and this is from someone that has never much cared for the guy.

  2. T. rex

    Wow,
    Highly disagree. This is Tom Hanks’s best performance.
    The problems I had were very VERY minor and I thought Greengrass’s style (which I usually hate) fit the setting of being at sea, you don’t need a lot of wide shots on a ship corridor. I do wish there were more scenes of the families of the pirates and the marketing ruined a lot of moments that would have been great surprises.

  3. Bokb

    It was “Philadelphia” that sold me on Tom Hanks. He turned me on to opera in that movie.
    Read that again:
    “He turned me on to opera.”
    I really like him & expect another satisfying film!

  4. William Chase

    I was surprised at how much this wonderful movie affected me. Definitely one of the best films of the year and by far one of Tom Hanks’ most impressive performances to date. Oscar “bait” or not, both him and Paul Greengrass deserve award recognition this year.

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