Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Captain Phillips

Academy Award Nominations: 6

  • Best Picture
  • Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray)
  • Best Film Editing (Christopher Rouse)
  • Best Sound Editing (Oliver Tarney)
  • Best Sound Mixing (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munrod)

Captain Richard Phillips is in charge of taking an unarmed container ship from Oman to Mombasa, around the Horn of Africa directly through Somali pirate-infested waters. Low and behold, two skiffs begin making their way toward the ship. They're able to withhold the initial charge, but when they return on the second day, they can't hold them off and the pirates take over the ship. Abduwali Muse and his three friends hold the ship and the crew for ransom, but Phillips is determined to fight back: He has his crew hide in the engine room, stop the ship, and cut the power. As determined as the American crew are, the Somalis are driven by the prospect of millions of dollars in ransom money and are well armed. It can't end well, especially once the US Navy get involved in the rescue mission...

Tom Hanks has, really strangely, become the quiet man of Hollywood. After a few quiet years, he's only recently returned to the limelight in films such as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Cloud Atlas. He had time to write and direct his directorial debut, Larry Crowne, as well. It just seems as if Hanks has reached the point where, quite frankly, he doesn't need to take any project that comes his way; he's being extremely selective about which projects he takes on board. It was lucky, then, he chose to come on board this film based on its screenplay without a director even attached. Luckily, Paul Greengrass was offered the chance to bring his Bourne trilogy magic to this highly tense drama about a hostage situation. Initially, Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass seems like an odd combination on the surface, and you'd be right to think so, but don't worry, even with Hanks on board, this is unmistakable Greengrass. I'll leave it to you to decide whether this is a good thing.

Here's the thing that grabbed me most of all about this film: The trailer is maybe the most mis-leading of the year. Here's why: 1. The trailer doesn't give away the fact that half the film doesn't even take place on the massive container ship you see for 90% of the trailer, and 2. The trailer in no way gives away how much involvement the US Navy has in the proceedings. The story of one man facing adversity is what everyone came to see, but as the film progresses, the Navy becomes a larger and larger part of the story to the point where Captain Phillips is almost forgotten by the conclusion, becoming a secondary to the overriding message that "America saves the day again." The focus is most definitely on Captain Phillips and the pirates, but as the movie creeps on, the Navy becomes more and more of a factor. It's a shame, because as soon as they become involved, you know how this is going to end and the film becomes a drag while you wait for how it plays out while the inevitable conclusion finally arrives.

This is, however, not really about that. This is a film that focuses on characters and the relationships that are formed between them. Therefore, it's down to Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi to carry this film, and they're both excellent. Tom Hanks is extremely sympathetic as Captain Phillips, he really carries this film without ever going over the top. At the end, there's certainly scope for Hanks to go OTT but he keeps himself in check and keeps his reactions and performances rooted in reality, which is most certainly an impressive feat. However, it is Barkhad Abdi who steals the show as Abduwali Muse, leader of the band of pirates who take over Phillips' ship and take Phillips hostage for a ransom. He's smart and evil and calm and collected and he's a real joy to see; a proper movie villain who, again, doesn't go OTT. He is the equal opposite to Hanks' Phillips in that they're both strong, confident leaders with wits and intelligence, but they're working on opposite sides of the spectrum. Aside from these two, though, the supporting cast is surprisingly underwhelming, with no-one really given a chance to shine or any real purpose in the film.

It is, then, that the film has an over-reliance on its core relationship between good and evil, and everyone else is mere cannon fodder. But then Paul Greengrass has never been one to develop characters, his films centre on action and fit nicely within his trademark quasi-documentary style. It's guns and explosions stuff that anyone could do, but the guns and explosions are hidden behind a shaky camera. Sure, there's certainly tension in this and all of his other films, but there's nothing spectacular or particularly memorable about Captain Phillips. It's argued that Greengrass' involvement with the Bourne franchise made the producers of the James Bond films rethink their franchise, and yes, you can see where Greengrass' directorial touches have been incorporated into every action film since The Bourne Supremacy, but is it really much different? Guns are still fired, things are still blown up, people still die, and America still rules.

Overall, it's nice to see Paul Greengrass attempt a proper drama instead of an all-out action film for once, but he just can't help himself, and he's turned a tense hostage drama into a head-dizzying action film. Captain Phillips got punched in the gut! CUE FRANTIC CAMERA MOVEMENT! It's the same but different from Greengrass; it's got Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi putting in some good work and it has some brief moments of tension, but it's unspectacular and surprisingly similar to what we've seen before. People love the Bourne films, but I didn't, and the same thing has happened here. Maybe I'm missing something? It's the same! Show me what's new and different and noteworthy and I'll happily write a retraction. Until then, Captain Phillips was good, but it could have been great.

Rating: ***