Captain Phillips (2013)
Dir: Paul Greengrass
Wow… that escalated quickly and far beyond what I expected!
Directed by Paul Greengrass (“Bourne Ultimatum”, “United 93”), this is based on the real events in 2009 when an American container ship was boarded by Somali pirates, and Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks, ‘Saving Mr Banks’) was held at gunpoint while attempting to ensure the safety of the crew and follow protocols to get the pirates to leave.
It is a story that was apparently widely reported in the press, but more in the U.S. rather than here, and so I didn’t know what happened, and I deliberately avoided reading up on the events before I saw the film. This was a good decision, as I really felt a sense of jeopardy throughout and was at the edge of my seat! Things play out in a way that goes far beyond what you might expect from my brief synopsis above, and escalate to a level I wouldn’t even have dreamt of!
The fact this was directed by Paul Greengrass is important. His style is brilliant, a quite distinctive use of cameras that closely resembles a documentary style. The motion of the cameras here works along with the motion of the sea, both giving the intended impression of realism, but also reinforcing the location out at sea. In some cinemas there have been reports of people vomiting due to feeling seasick, which I think is more a compliment to how well it is shot, rather than an issue.
There’s been a bit of dispute from the rest of the crew as to how accurately the film portrays the heroism of Captain Phillips. I wasn’t there, I don’t know, and with the film being primarily based on his own memoirs, maybe there’s a little bit of inaccuracy slipping in. However, to me, it wasn’t his heroism that hit me about the character. What came across more, was the difficulty of the situation both the crew of the Maersk Alabama, and the pirates, found themselves in, and how they were all forced into a scenario that became increasingly unlikely to end well.
Strong performances are at the heart of conveying all that, and here it really comes down to the two leads, Captain Phillips played by veteran actor Tom Hanks, and the pirate leader played by first-timer Barkhad Abdi. Both are excellent.
With portraying the eponymous character, Hanks has been nominated as best leading actor in many awards, and while I don’t know if he’ll win the Oscar next weekend for the role, he is on top form. For me, it wasn’t the earlier half of the film where he’s working to control the situation and placate the pirates, but rather the latter half, in which (not wanting to spoil things) he is out of control of the situation, in which Hanks excelled. The final few scenes, while almost unbearably tense, had myself and my friend at the edges of our seats and nearly in tears as Tom Hanks acted his socks off, outdoing any other part of his performance.
Equally impressive is Barhkad Abdi as the leader of the small group of pirates. He is simply superb, especially considering how he has to act toe-to-toe with a Hollywood star throughout the film, and must convey that he’s the one in control of the situation. The actors playing the pirates didn’t meet the rest of the cast until filming the scenes where they take the ship, with Paul Greengrass deciding this would help the performances get the right tone, and something definitely worked. Abdi is compelling from start to end, and so when he won the BAFTA for best supporting actor a few weeks ago, the applause from the audience was unlike any other round of applause that evening, it was noticeably heartfelt and warm. That theater filled with film industry experts and long-time actors clearly felt, as did I, that his win was well deserved.
It’s not a relaxing jaunt on the high seas, and if you don’t know the story, it will take you by surprise, but this is Paul Greengrass handling another difficult hijacking situation on film, and getting it absolutely right.
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