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Captain Phillips

July 16, 2014

Captain Phillips (2013)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Actors: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed

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Synopsis: Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is in charge of a large freighter taking cargo around the horn of Africa to Mombasa. While in the Somali Basin part of the Arabian Sea, Phillips’ ship comes under sustained threat from Somali pirates, and eventually one group of pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) succeeds in boarding the ship. In a tactical game of power-broking between the four armed pirates and the dozens of crewmates (most of whom are hidden), the pirates eventually escape the ship in a lifeboat with a small amount of money but more importantly, Captain Phillips himself, held as ransom….

Review: Captain Phillips works as a reasonably effective thriller, although in retrospect, those thrills seem more down to the inherent strengths of the scenario than through any brio in the storytelling itself. Probably my biggest criticism of Captain Phillips is that it doesn’t quite know what story it’s trying to tell. On the one hand it’s trying to sell itself as a conventional story of ‘little man’ heroism and how Captain Phillips shows outstanding wit and bravery to go toe-to-toe (mainly in the psychological sense) with the four armed Somali pirates who take over his ship. When Phillips is blubbering and stunned by the trauma of it all at the climax, it’s almost as if director Paul Greengrass has felt compelled to give the film a comprehensible end point for where our sympathies should lie – but then for much of the previous two hours, Greengrass has tried (almost too clunkily) to present the background and motivations of the Somali pirates as in some way morally equivalent to that of Phillips.

Also, Captain Phillips confirms my impression that Greengrass is an excellent action director, but no more than that. Someone like Michael Mann is a far superior purveyor of what I would tag ‘cerebral tension’, and Kathryn Bigelow essayed far more convincingly in a subtler way the sheer awe at modern US military might in Zero Dark Thirty. (July 2014)

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