Monday, 21 October 2013
FILM REVIEW: CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Greengrass' United 93 was my favourite film of 2006. The docudrama-like retelling of doomed United Airways Flight 93 on that fateful day in September, 2001 bristled with drama and emotion without ever being sensationalist or cloying. It was a thriller that never lost sight of the human bravery and tragedy it was portraying.
And although we knew the outcome, such was the skill of the direction, coupled with the no-name cast (and one's own subconscious Hollywood indoctrination: all endings are happy, yes?) that we thought the passengers might make it after all -- even when viewing it a second or third time.
Captain Phillips is also based on actual events: the hijacking by Somali pirates of an American cargo ship; the first US ship to be taken by pirates in some 200 years. And like United 93, while less infamous and far less tragic, the outcome is also known (although if you know nothing of the events aboard the Maersk Alabama, you're sure to find Captain Phillips far more nail-biting).
And like United 93, Greengrass brings his docudrama aesthetic -- not to mention his Bourne-style flourishes -- to this high seas drama; first putting the audience on board the Alabama when it is seized by just four gun-wielding Somalis, and then at sea when said pirates and the titular Captain (Tom Hanks) head for the Somali coast in the claustrophobic confines of a life pod, pursued by American naval ships.
Adapted by Billy Ray from Richard Phillips' book, A Captain's Duty: Somalis Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea, detailing the events, Greengrass' film works as both a thriller and a commentary on the explosive meeting of the First and Third Worlds; Phillips and the pirates functioning as symbols as much as anything else (there's little in the way of back story for either Phillips -- a clunky opening scene let's us know he has a wife (a pointlessly cast Catherine Keener) and kids -- or the hijackers).
Still, Hanks is ideal for the role of Phillips. His 'every man' qualities making the captain empathetic and believable. And it's a solid turn by the actor (even with his inconsistent Boston accent) as Phillips keeps his wits about him in the face of danger and sacrificing himself for his crew.
Feature film debutant, Barkhad Abdi, also manages to register as Muse, the leader of the four pirates who is determined to make the Alabama his big ticket. There is hunger in this man's eyes, both figurative and literal, and either a captain's ransom or a one-way ticket to America will sate that desire.
Captain Phillips doesn't come close to United 93 in eliciting emotion or for producing suspense, nor is it equal to that film generally. But Greengrass continues to excel as a director who effectively marries Hollywood sensibilities with political narratives: producing thrillers for adults and exercising the mind as he quickens the pulse.