Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS: Experiencing Actual Piracy

October 15, 2013

"Captain Phillips" is the Hollywood retelling of the true-to-life 2009 story of an American container vessel Maersk Alabama (with Captain Richard Phillips at the helm) being held hostage by armed Somali pirates. The screenplay by Billy Ray was based on the novel "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea," which was written by Captain Phillips himself.  We expect then that the story will all be told in Phillips' point of view. 

Playing the titular character, Tom Hanks is what this film is all about. He starts off simply, playing Capt. Phillips as a regular family man and seasoned seaman on a routine delivery. However when the pirates came, you see him transform into a cool-under-pressure leader and shrewd tactician, matching wits with these desperate aggressors. In the last five minutes, Hanks would give us an unexpected display of emotion which may well deliver him another Oscar for Best Actor.  A nomination at least is practically in the bag.

The Somali-American first-time actors playing the pirates are a very realistic bunch. They portray their characters with wild-eyed and feral intensity, really scary. Barkhad Abdi plays their foolhardy leader Muse.  Gaunt and skinny, he fearlessly engages Phillips in a tense chess game, toe-to-toe. There is actually Oscar buzz brewing for his raw portrayal.  Faysal Ahmed plays the hot-headed Najee, who was the loose cannon of the group. Barkhad Abdirahman plays the young recruit Bilal, getting himself a baptism of fire on his first time out.

When I saw the name director Paul Greengrass in the credits, I understood why the sense of tension and urgency of this desperate situation were so well-conveyed. This was that familiar sense of excitement we felt in his previous films, like the last two Jason Bourne films or that suspenseful 9/11 drama "United 93". He really knows how to make military operations exciting on screen.  What he did for the Army in "Green Zone," he does again with the Navy SEALS in this film.

I have to admit I was on the verge of getting seasick as the camera was shaking with the waves, but luckily I held on despite the two-hour length of the film set at sea. 

Overall, this is a different sort of adventure drama, with a topic not too commonly tackled in a mainstream film. We hear of these events on the news, but this film brings us right in the middle of one in progress. We will feel the tension building as the pirates were approaching their ship. We will feel the fear of the crew when the pirates were on board. We will feel the desperation and the frustration of being trapped in the middle of the open ocean with no help immediately forthcoming. If you are up for such a realistic harrowing experience, then this film is for you.  7/10

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