Fact-based films work and sometimes they don’t. Some stick to the facts, while some tend to add fiction to drive entertainment value. After Paul Greengrass’ semi-documentary film “United 93”, the director returns to direct a pseudo-biographical film based on the book by Richard Phillips A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangerous Days at Sea. If you followed the news reports about this incident, you are probably familiar with this story. Greengrass presents a multi-layered examination of the hijacking of the American cargo ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates seen through the eyes of Captain Phillips.
Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) is the captain of the American container ship Maersk Alabama in April 2009. When a small group of Somali pirates led by a man named Muse (Barkhad Abdi), things go out of control, and what was meant to be fight for the ship ends up being a fight for his life. Both men will find themselves under the mercy of forces beyond their control in this standoff.
There is something to be said in the way the film is executed. It is part pulse-pounding thriller, part emotional drama and a complex portrait of the innumerable effects of globalization. The screenplay by Billy Ray does not waste its time getting to the film’s main premise. It manages to grab your attention immediately since as soon as minor characterization is put out the way, the film immediately goes into high gear. It is all about what one believes in and just how one sticks to his duty. Phillips is shown as a man of conscience as his first concern is the safety of his crew. On the other side is another leader, another captain in another form. Muse is a man trying to do good by the men at his side, and for all intents and purposes, despite his questionable choices, he is a simple man who just happen to do what he must to survive. The script makes an effort to humanize its characters, and this is what makes the film very strong and exciting.
Bily Ray and Paul Greengrass made the effort to humanize the pirates and by doing so, they appear to be a little sympathetic that while I didn’t like what I was seeing, I certainly could not find it in myself to hate them. In this tragic incident, the film weaves tragic situations and characters. It not only succeeds in bringing forth something different than just your typical hostage-hijacker drama, but it gives its characters personality. By focusing on this dangerous relationship between Phillips and Muse, it not only makes the situation itself the bad guy, but rather just how they stood in different sides of the world. With its dialogue, the viewer gets to know what the characters are thinking, and it all presents a feeling of authenticity. No effort is wasted, no dialogue came meaningless and Greengrass was very careful not to preach a little too much with his presentation of its subtle themes.
The direction was carefully driven to exude that feeling of claustrophobia and confusion. Once the film gets into the scenes in the lifeboat, it becomes a powerful emotional roller-coaster within a tight thriller. There evolves a feeling of an ‘almost’ dependency between Phillips and the pirates just so they could survive. There emerges a kind of inner struggle within them as one tries to stay on point and maintain that advantage over the other. Tom Hanks has always been a terrific actor and this film is his return to form. His performance as he tries to use his intelligence in the first half was convincing and his acting chops became truly exposed; especially in the film’s final act as Hank’s final scene incredibly rounded up exactly what the film was all about. Abdi was just as terrific in his performance, as he matched Hanks scene per scene. The supporting cast led by Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali and Barkhad Abdirahman provided much needed support to channel the film’s emotional drama. The Somali cast were truly impressive in their roles.
Director Paul Greengrass had created a strong film that depicts that moment in 2009. He seemed to have been able to have gotten rid of all unnecessary pizzazz and went right to the point of the matter. There is a realistic method how Greengrass executed everything in the film, that you could just experience sea-sickness yourself. There are a lot of thoughts and ideas in “Captain Phillips”, and the way Greengrass merged a pseudo-biopic in a tight thriller that seeks to examine things about globalization and the suffering of the Somali people were just nearly excellent. The film is gripping, emotionally driven and took its time as it unfolded. In many ways, it is a harrowing account of those events, but yet, it finds some kind of inspiration underneath it all. “Captain Phillips” gets a High Recommendation from me. [4+ Out of 5 Stars]
By Joan Alperin Schwartz There are three reasons to see this film. Number One: This is one of the best directed films I've seen in 2013. Number Two: Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips has never been better and finally... Number Three: John, the other half of Two Jews On Film...(The super critical half) awarded it five bagels out of 5. … more