CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (PG-13)
A HIGH SEAS THRILL!If you haven’t seen this picture yet get ready for an emotional rollercoaster ride of heart-pounding suspense. During the last twenty minutes I almost crashed and burned (metaphorically) due to the remarkable performance given by Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips. This is a loosely based docudrama ripped from the 2009 headlines about the hijacking of the container ship Maersk Alabama by a group of Somali pirates. The story made world-wide news at the time and has been compellingly realized on the big screen through the directorial lenses of Paul Greengrass (Bourne Ultimatum). Sailing perilously close off the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean the ship is invaded by ruffian pirates seeking a large pay-day haul from the American coffers.
Tom Hanks already boasts an impressive movie résumé, but this role could arguably be remembered among his best yet as the cargo ship captain on a routine mission that goes horribly wrong. His character was delivered as an acting tour de force beginning in the slow brew cauldron of cool-headed control that rises like a thermostat as events spiral towards desperation. As Phillips he carries you along as he attempts to play by the book until he realizes there is no book for this actuality. (This was the first invasion of an American cargo ship in two hundred years).
There were some curious surprises in the realistic portrayals among the supporting cast. Newcomer Somali-American Barkhad Abdi played the pirate leader Muse (earning him a Best Supporting Actor nomination). He has unwittingly signed on for more than he bargained for when he hijacks the ship. Muse’s strategy does not proceed as planned and what ensues is a cat and mouse game of who-can-out-fox-who. In some ways the story narrows to a tale of two “captains” on a mission forced into making tough choices from differing moral compasses. Abdi’s character Muse is simultaneously the fierce scavenger of the seas/reluctant villain who is inwardly torn about how far he’s willing to go to finish what he started.
An equal acting nod goes to another movie newcomer Faysal Ahmed who played the Somali pirate’s trigger-happy shoot-first-question-later Najee. He has no interest in preserving human lives and is the constant antagonist at Muse’s elbow bringing a dangerous element to the pirates’ already shaky position. Also noteworthy was another significant member of the Somalian contingency, Mahat M, Ali as the youngest member Elmi who is in way over his head.
The casting of real life Somali-American friends found on a Minnesota casting call gave the story brilliant authenticity. This chemistry worked well for the first time actors who needed to show teamwork together on screen. Director Paul Greengrass laid out a tautly driven cinematic banquet with this film admitting he was paying indirect tribute to his father a Merchant Marine – no extra charge.
To me a good motion picture has a plausible story, holds your attention and produces empathy for the characters. But an excellent film goes one better - it leaves you emotionally hung out to dry, and glued to the theatre seat at the end wondering what you’d do if it was you? That’s what separates the good stories from the greats and Captain Phillips captures all these elements in abundance. This blockbuster has already been grabbing up awards around the globe and is an Oscar contender for 2014 Best Picture…deservedly so.
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