Captain Phillips (2013)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Captain Phillips</strong> (2013)

(On Cable TV, July 2013) Director Paul Greengrass has carved himself a niche as someone willing to engage contemporary real-life issues in a highly naturalistic style. The approach isn’t always successful (the shakycam thing gets annoying quickly) but his last few movies have shown increasing polish, real-world relevance and surprising thrills. So it is that Captain Phillips tackles the real-life story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama cargo ship hijacking through the story of its captain Richard Phillips. As one expects from a Greengrass film, Captain Phillips takes a realistic approach to its material, delving into the minutiae of modern maritime shipping, presenting events in a deceptively unglamorous light and using handheld cameras whenever possible. (Which, thankfully, isn’t possible in establishing helicopter shots) Still, despite the rough images, there’s no mistaking the heroic dramatic arc of the protagonist, or the careful construction of the script. This is meant to be a punched-up version of reality (something that minor controversies surrounding the film have made clear) that, despite an unheroic climax in which the lead character demonstrates a textbook example of shock, is meant to leave viewers reassured. It works well: the film manages to combine real-world details with old-school suspense and thrills, leading to a result that feels both real and satisfying –especially in portraying how the Alabama tries to defend itself against pirates. Tom Hanks initially seems wasted as the everyman titular captain Phillips, but the role and Hanks’ portrayal get more complex and difficult as the film advances, leading to a final sequence that’s as fearless as anything the actor’s been asked to portray to date. Relative newcomer Barkhad Abdi also makes an impression as antagonist Muse, bringing some humanity to a role that could have been played as caricature. While Captain Phillips runs a bit overlong (especially during its third act, which seems to be purposefully repetitive), it’s a fine docu-drama and a refreshing antidote to so many overblown Hollywood thrillers.

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