Captain Phillips (2013) Review:

Fans of handheld camera are in for a treat.

The depth-of-field is strong with this one.
The depth-of-field is strong with this one.

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, et al.

Director: Paul Greengrass

Runtime: 134 minutes

Plot: (Taken from IMDb) The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Captain Phillips is a thriller that thrives on suspense, set almost entirely on the sea. It’s a true life film that underlines realism in its every aspect and stylistic decision. It’s a good film with great performances let down by a few issues.

We are introduced to the titular Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) from the get go, we are told that this is a big job ahead of him, one that his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) does not want him to go on. But he must. Fairly early on into the film we are introduced to the band of Somali Pirates who eventually try to capture the ship, and from this point on the film does not stop to take a breath.

For a film that is over two hours long, it does not feel like a chore – this is thanks to the brisk pace and building of momentum expertly crafted by director Paul Greengrass. The relentless pace of the film helps to wash over spells of shots that perhaps linger just a little too long. For example, it takes an awful long time for the pirates to board Phillip’s ship – I know this may be true to life – taking too long for a piece of information we know will happen, they will (and did) board the ship, so why must it dragged out as much as it was. When they do eventually get to the ship, we are given long shots of them being sprayed by the ships hoses, while this is meant to increase tension; I just thought it to be a tad tedious and not very exciting.

Now, these complaints are not huge, as I already said, the film does not feel too long. I just feel it could’ve been better with some time taken off, as I didn’t particularly feel the tension in the opening half-hour or so of the film. However, the opening half-hour or so of the film does a great job of introducing us to the people of the film, be they protagonists or antagonists. Indeed, Captain Phillips does a great job with the people in the film, I felt sorry for everyone, and I’m sure we are meant to.

It is in the acting where the emotion comes, and it is in the acting that we find the strongest aspect of the film. Tom Hanks delivers his finest performance since Saving Private Ryan, you really feel the emotions he displays and the attention he grabs from his “normal guy” persona. Barkhad Abdi (who plays the film’s “Villain”, Muse) however steals the show. Abdi gives such an emotional weight to his character, the likes of which is not often seen. The rest of the cast plays out well, but it is in Hanks and Abdi where the film finds its emotional footing.

It helps then that the actors had a great script to work with, everything sounds natural and every line of dialogue only helps to further strengthen the film and the emotional turmoil the characters find themselves in. The script draws heavily on the films strong application of realism, which is what drives the entirety of proceedings.

The inherent realism of the film is entirely intentional; there is not much soundtrack to speak of and the vast majority of the film is shot with handheld cameras – which are the film’s greatest curse. For a while the handheld cameras did not bother me, as it was an intentional stylistic choice to make the film seem more “real”. But I did eventually grow weary of the technique, not enough to dislike the film, but just enough to make what could have been a great film into a good one.

Despite this complaint, the film does look good, it surprised me how expertly framed a lot of the shots were. Paul Greengrass and Barry Ackroyd know their way around a camera despite the overbearing use of handheld.

Going with the look of the film is a fine make-up department; it’s great to see the characters getting sweatier, ragged and scared. It’s a simple positive to pick out, but I truly feel the make-up department on Captain Phillips made the film what it is and deserve a lot of respect and applause for their work. Congrats.

Summary:

Captain Phillips is a good film with fantastic performances that add a great deal of emotional weight, solid direction and a great eye for detail. It’s a shame that I felt bogged down by the amount of handheld camera shots and didn’t appreciate the opening half-hour’s attempts at building tension. If you’re looking for a good film set on a boat however, you could do a lot worse – a niche market, I know, but a market nonetheless.

A good thriller with its heart in the right place.

78/100

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