Search Film Reviews

Monday, September 30, 2013


Tom Hanks stars in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips."
Photo by Jasin Boland
©2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2013, 134 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence including bloody images, and for substance abuse

Review by Joshua Handler

Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips is an astounding piece of filmmaking that features a career-best performance from Tom Hanks and a humane screenplay by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games).  The film tells the true story of Richard Phillips, the captain of a ship who was taken hostage after his ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.

Everything in Captain Phillips works.  Paul Greengrass is known for directing intense fact-based films such as United 93 and superb adrenaline-rush thrillers such as The Bourne Ultimatum.  With Captain Phillips, he marries these two kinds of films together to create a movie that always feels real, while still serving as an excellent piece of entertainment.  Like Kathryn Bigelow's incredible Zero Dark Thirty and Greengrass' 2006 film United 93, we all know the ending of Captain Phillips, but somehow Greengrass, like Bigelow, manages to make his film nerve-jangling and doesn't waste a minute of screen time.  Greengrass' films never feel too "Hollywoody" due to their extensive use of handheld camera and lack of sentimentality and cliché.  Greengrass understates the drama and allows the film to end on a quiet, triumphant note instead of a fanfare-laden patriotic one.

Tom Hanks adds another layer of realism to the film as the eponymous Captain Phillips.  There are any number of clips that could be shown that would show Hanks' mastery of this role, but it is the quiet final scene of the film where Hanks shines brightest, bringing the emotional arc of the film home.  The line between Hanks and Phillips disappears and the two become one.  Hanks' performance is not showy; it is an subtle piece of acting that gives us a look into the core of a man who is pushed to his breaking point.  Hanks has made an excellent career of playing ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, and Phillips is one such kind of man.  It is obvious that Hanks cares so deeply about his character and because of this, he becomes an instantly sympathetic person.  By the film's climax, we have been through so much with Hanks that whenever something terrible happens to his character, it pains us.  Even something simple like a punch to his body hurts to watch.  This is a testament to Hanks' mastery of his material.

Billy Ray's screenplay is brilliant.  Ray's dialogue is almost always realistic and every scene (save for the cheesy first one) is in the film for a reason.  Ray doesn't make this yet another extraordinary true-life drama.  He makes it one about character and emotion.  The Somali pirates are even developed, which gives the film moral complexity.

Barry Ackroyd's (The Hurt Locker, United 93) cinematography is as handheld and shaky as ever, but his style gives the film an authentic look and feel, and also much of the intensity needed to keep it going.

Overall, Captain Phillips is a near-masterpiece of action filmmaking that serves as a reminder that big-budget filmmaking isn't dead yet.  So few films from major studios look like their directors put as much care and effort into them as Captain Phillips.  This a breathtaking and emotional journey that left me stunned.


No comments:

Post a Comment