‘Captain Phillips’ Movie Review – Continuing the Streak
“Above and beyond the call of duty” is a phrase used to describe the extraordinary effort by ordinary people. It could be as simple as doing something before you’re asked to or something more extreme like risking your life to save someone. The narrative in Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips presents a story about a captain who does just this, even when the actual story doesn’t exactly go “above and beyond the call of duty.” Still, there is a lot to like about the film, making it a formidable release that continues Hollywood’s fall hot streak.
Captain Phillips is about…well, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks). He is the captain of the Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship that is hijacked off of the Somalia coast. The gigantic U.S. ship is overtaken by just four Somali pirates (Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat Ali) which sets off a string of events that involves more than just the pirates and crew members. Based on the 2009 event, some of us can probably remember the military and government reaction that followed the initial hijacking.
Greengrass is partially known for his real-life action adaptations, including Bloody Sunday, United 93, and Green Zone. He’s back at it with Captain Phillips, which like most “real-life” adaptations, makes use of some “creative liberties.” Some criticisms call out the accuracy because a couple reports have painted a much different picture of the “heroic” captain.
Similar to the books vs. movies debate, it comes down to personal preference. Does a Hollywood adaptation need to be 100% accurate? The pendulum tends to swing back when the movie surfaces (especially when it is met with critical acclaim). Earlier this year it happened with Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and movies like Zero Dark Thirty and Argo weren’t immune to criticism either. It tends to only be a problem when it’s a pivotal part of the story.
I’m not so sure the argument can be made here.
Still, Hollywood loves a “true story,” especially when it can make Americans look like the good guys. This is where my lone criticism will come into play. Just judging by the trailers (which, yes, is a bad idea), Captain Phillips looks like it had the potential to explore the enemy.
Most of us are at least familiar with the story and inherently root for the good guys. That’s fine, but it can be more interesting to get a glimpse into the heads of the bad guys. In this case, it’s a group of impoverished and pushed-up-against-the-wall Somalians who have nowhere else to go to survive.
Captain Phillips, unfortunately, doesn’t paint a wide enough picture. Muse (Abdi), the main pirate, is pushed a couple times, but we still never get a complete picture of life in Somalia.
The rebuttal would be that we shouldn’t. There’s something admittedly immoral about profiting off of a terrorist attack (and these pirates are essentially terrorists), and that’s why movies like this must walk a fine line. The “right” thing to do is dehumanize the enemy. I just personally don’t see the world as black-and-white.
Stepping off the soapbox and looking at Captain Phillips with less social commentary, there aren’t a lot of movies filled with as much suspense. Even before the pirates make it to the water, Greengrass creates an eerie scene and establishes the helplessness of the open waters. You can say goodbye to the back of your seat and rest of fingernails in a way that’s comparable to the aforementioned Zero Dark Thirty.
Hanks can also likely say hello to another Academy Award nomination. Even with his slight accent and subdued gusto, Hanks doesn’t shine as much as you’d expect for the majority of the film. There are moments (including the bits we do get with the social commentary), but the bulk of his brilliance happens in one of the best acted scenes I’ve probably ever seen. I’ll only tease it as his final scene in the movie, and I do think it’s un-hypable.
That’s how good he is.
I don’t like to hang a movie on one scene, but Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips has enough in one scene to carry the rest of the movie. And the rest of the movie is utterly suspenseful and entertaining. So the story isn’t 100% accurate and is loaded towards one side…so what?
We’ve celebrated much worse before.
Captain Phillips is now available in wide release. Check your local listings for specific showtimes.
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