Culture, Reviews

“Captain Phillips”: In Review


Captain Phillips

Release Date: Friday October 11, 2013

MPAA Rating: PG-13

We are quickly approaching that time of year where movie studios will release films in hopes of landing the coveted oscar nomination. To kick off the season, we’ve seen critically acclaimed, star-driven movies released in successive weekends. “Gravity” is already considered to be a sure thing for a best picture nomination, and “Captain Phillips”, with its wide release a week later, is no less deserving.

“Captain Phillips” is a thrilling true story about the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. The movie’s dedication to realism, the immersive style of director Paul Greengrass, the powerful performance by Tom Hanks, and the film’s artful handling of complex global socioeconomic realities combine to make it one of the years best film’s so far.

As far as “based on a true story” movies go, this one seems to have been mostly accurate. Not only does it stay true to the essential details of the story it is based upon, there are many details which make the movie seem more realistic. The filmmakers have real medics and Navy SEALS playing important roles.  The actors portraying the Somali pirates have a very powerful presence. Hanks was not allowed to meet them until they began filming the hijacking scene in order to add an extra level of authenticity to the scene. This is one of many decisions by Greengrass that worked on every level. Greengrass’ style of putting the audience in the middle of the action has never been more effective than it was here. The danger of this technique is that when overdone the viewer can be confused or disoriented. Greengrass uses the style with skill and restraint. The audience is on both the Maersk Alabama and later the lifeboat, but one can always follow the action without getting seasick.

Hanks’ performance is his best in many years. He portrays the titular Captain with a strong sense of unwavering calm. When that calm breaks at the end, it is a wave of raw and honest emotion that will move most of the audience to tears.

Another area where the film shines is its handling of the pirates themselves. With a story that could have played out like a generic rescue mission, the filmmakers resist the temptation to make them caricature villains. As things begin to go wrong for the kidnappers, there is a real sense of fear and desperation that makes the characters seem more real. As the audience learns more about their situation and the people that we work for, we are asked to consider how much their life of piracy is a result of the situation that they are born into. This is not to say that the film acts as though they are not doing wrong, but it recognizes that where you are born plays a large role in what opportunities life gives you.

With two and a half prime movie-going months left in the year it is too early to declare “Captain Phillips” the best movie of the year, but I can say that it is certainly worth seeing and deciding for yourself.

On my scale of 1-10 with 1 being the worst, 5 being the best and 10 being the worst again, I give “Captain Phillips” a perfect 5 with an emoticon based subranking of: ZOMG THAT MOVIE WAS FREAKING GREAT!1!!11!!!1!

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