It seems the season is upon us now where movies really want to be awarded things. Sometimes this means we get really great stuff, like Gravity. Other times it means we get good-but-not-spectacular-and-therefore-kinda-deceiving stuff like Captain Phillips. As a story it is one of the great maritime episodes of recent history. As a movie, it is competent but not really special, combining a solid performance by Tom Hanks with an all right rest of it overall.
Captain Phillips' titular character is played by Hanks. He is a commercial freighter captain shipping cargo around the African horn. This of course goes wrong when a band of Somali pirates boards their ship.
The movie has two main problems that are sort of the same problem: this is a story that we know the ending of specifically, and a genre we are overly familiar with generally. Therefore, most of the work put into making it suspenseful is kind of wasted. Director Paul Greengrass is good at this (he gave us two Bourne movies) but it doesn't have the effect here. But even if you don't know the specifics of the story, you are acquainted with the rescue movie genre and its conventions. The movie goes willingly along with all of them, and results in a lot of ill-spent energy.
There is an attempt to get around all this, to a certain extent, but I don't think it quite makes it. We get to know the four pirates pretty well, and they seem to be our outlet into something a little different. Their leader especially has an interesting relationship with Phillips, and there is an attempt to make something of this. They are both captains, but they differ radically with how they act in relation to their crew. This is kind of neat, but ultimately doesn't pan out to much.
The movie, notwithstanding my comments above, is pretty watchable. There are even some tense moments even though we pretty much know the outcome, so chalk that up to Greengrass' skill. The movie's best part by a long stretch is its last fifteen minutes or so. As it wraps up there are some interesting little threads of moral ambiguity--nothing inflammatory but enough to remind that there are multiple sides to every story. There are also some powerful moments showing the trauma experienced by some characters that really bring the movie down to the level of real-life, rejecting any action-movie similarities there might have been.
So I say that Captain Phillips is good but not necessarily noteworthy. In other terms, it is more worthwhile as a weekend rental than as a show with paid admission. As always let me know what you thought about it.
Captain Phillips features Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Faysal Ahmed, and is rated PG-13 for some violence.
Writer: Billy Ray
Director: Paul Greengrass
by Chase Harrison