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Captain Phillips - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Captain Phillips
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A
Editing: A

Captain Phillips may not have the jaw-dropping special effects of Gravity, but it is every bit as gripping, and has the advantage of being a true story. Or, presumably, a mostly true story. It's always good to be skeptical about such things. But whatever creative license is made in this movie is clearly in service of tightening up the story; there are no "cinema magic" tricks here. Accurate or not, everything seen on screen in this film is firmly rooted in the real world.

Tom Hanks gives as good a performance as he has ever done. As Captain Richard Phillips, he plays a man who keeps his cool under pressure, even under desperation. And this is a man who is desperate more than heroic, and yet it's still the decisions made under pressure that make him a hero. There is a large supporting cast here, but the focus is always on Phillips. It's not just because he is the captain of the container ship vessel traveling dangerous waters around the Horn of Africa, but because when things don't go quite so well for the Somali pirates, they kidnap him.

Director Paul Greengrass, who similarly -- and brilliantly -- depicted the hijacked plane downed by passengers in United 93, smartly portrays the pirates as complicated individuals rather than purely evil villains for the U.S. Navy to take down. Sure, the Navy is shown to be a massive machine not to be fucked with, but there's a subtle note of sinisterness even there. There's a brief period where it seems the Navy would rather let Phillips die than allow the Somalis to win. But they do everything they can to keep them from arriving at the Somali shore, at least.

The Somali pirates are excellently cast, apparently from a worldwide search: most notably Barkhad Abdi as Muse, their leader; and Mahat M. Ali as Elmi, a teenager clearly in over his head. Greengrass never makes excuses for these men, but does provide a context for their circumstances, and their own desperation. Sure, it's perhaps over-simplified. There's a moment where Phillips suggests to Muse that there are always other choices, and Muse replies, "Maybe in America. Maybe in America." This line is maybe slightly too pointed, but it makes a point all the same.

Captain Phillips tells the story in basically three parts: the crew of the container ship braces themselves as they see the pirates approach; the pirates take over the ship and attempts to locate the rest of the crew, with only little success; then, for perhaps the final hour, they take Phillips hostage in a lifeboat. It's in the last hour or so, on the lifeboat with the navy ships and helicopters in pursuit, that the suspense is the greatest. The threat to Phillips is multi-fold, being in the middle of a standoff at sea.

There is very little fault to find in this movie, with the possible exception of the shaky hand-held photography typical of Greengrass films, which is a little overdone, and somewhat excessive in this movie alone. They may be at sea, but this kind of cinematography is used even in stable environments; why make us seasick every place we're in? This can get distracting, but not for long: Captain Phillips really is so absorbing that it's practically impossible to pay attention to anything else. The theatre I was in had some kind of temperature malfunction, and I didn't even realize it until the audience was being given free re-admittance tickets as an apology upon exit. That's a rather unusual but still clear testament to the film's quality.

Tom Hanks keeps his cool under pressure in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

Overall: A-
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