Movie Review: Captain Phillips
Pros:An at-times taut, measured, thriller, which commands interest. Hanks grounds the movie.
Cons:The movie can be disengaging and hard work at times. Hanks is not enough at times to get out full buy-in.
The story of the he first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. Tom Hanks will be your captain this evening.
The long and short of it is that Captain Phillips is a bit righteous. Both the man and the movie have an approach that is all a bit puritan and seem to want to preach to you and Somali pirates – the message, back off our cargo ships!
It is a well-made movie. Running over the 2 hour mark the movie is thankfully well-paced despite spending so much of its time in close confines at sea. We have a brief introduction to Phillip’s wife and family circumstances; these few scenes create what feels like the beginning of a Discovery Channel documentary where you expect a talking head to appear on screen any moment to give context to these re-created scenes of a real life event. This is a familiar approach with Paul Greengrass. The director will forever be responsible for one of the great last shots of a movie as United 93 mapped a steady, stressed progression towards an inevitable tragedy. Captain Phillips is shot with a similar natural, intimate form so that you feel the swell of the sea, the heat of the engine rooms, and abiding sense of doom.
Strange early scenes set an odd tone to events but thereafter the movie quickly sets out its stall as an expertly put together exercise in tension and immediacy. In a way the movie is not about story, the movie is about experience. An apt point of comparison here is last year’s Argo which was a procedural exercise in nerve shredding but with no character to care about; here, we have Hanks front and central as a decent everyman to root for and an all out assault on our nerves.
Other reviews will look to fill word count summarising plot, all you need is ‘Tom Hanks is hijacked by Somali pirates’. Hanks earns an Oscar nomination in the final 15 minutes of the movie but otherwise is so vanilla a character he seems to serve only to be our eyes to events. Hanks plays the type that hosts a BBQ on 4 July and commands a group of neighbours with stories of the wooden deck he has just built. He plays a very sincere, very reliable family man. The only offence he cases is where he shouts out loud to the Somali hijackers despite their clear command of English and patronises them with advice and direction. This is not their first hijacking, Phillip’s treats them like toddlers run amok. This is a symptom of the larger treatment of the hijackers within the movie and is one that leaves a sour after taste. The pirates are cast in Hollywood templates – the leader with a conflicted conscience; the naive weaker one, and the volatile wild-card. There are establishing scenes and some stray references to the reality faced by these once fisherman but why waste time on this when the might of naval and marine forces can be shown instead. With time to reflect on the movie it becomes less clear what it’s purpose is – neither a performance vehicle, a thriller, or commentary, the mix-up is ultimately unfulfilling.