Captain Phillips (2013)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on October 11, 2013 @

Captain Phillips is the story of how four men who, through ingenuity and will power, overcome a gargantuan foe.

One of the four is a teenager who has his whole future ahead of him. The leader is smart, cool, and brave.

Their foe is a leviathan of power. The quartet is a gallant, tiny band of warriors.

What? The four are bad guys?

They're pirates? That's ok. Pirates are often heroes.

Oh, they're Somalian pirates. That's not good.

They're against Tom Hanks. Oh, that's really bad.

Director Greengrass and writer Billy Ray turn the action/thriller genre full-speed on its head.

Captain Phillips is about the heroic captain (Tom Hanks) of a cargo ship with a crew of 20 [it outnumbers its attackers by 5-1]. Phillips and his crew have the power of the U.S. government, the Navy, and even the Seals behind him.

So the winner is inevitable.

We always cheer for the good guys, so it's crucial that Hanks is with Goliath.

Greengrass has made a canny film. It's unsettling in more than usual ways. It may disrupt our affiliations.

Even Richard Phillips is on wavery ground. The youngest "terrorist" may remind him of his sons - one of whom has left the nest, and the other who is not committed to his education. It's one of several sneaky parallels.

Another is that Phillips and the Somalian leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) - the two "Captains" - have bosses who are concerned with matters other than their salvation. The U.S. government is willing to sacrifice Phillips if it meets their needs.

Ray develops character, especially the gaunt Somalian pirate leader.

Muse does nothing evil. But he's reckless and impulsive, and piracy is a crime. Ray shows Muse as a fallible human being.

Richard Phillips is perceptive, decent, and sensitive. He's also vulnerable, as the sequence at the end potently reveals.

Greengrass is a master of the facial profile shot. He continually shows right and left profiles of bespectacled Phillips. When he emphasizes the full face of Phillips in the life boat capsule, it emphasizes the sweating intimacy.

Captain Phillips is an evocative, insightful film. In one telling shot of the night sky, Greengrass and his artful cinematographer Barry Ackroyd juxtapose the natural world of the moon with the mechanized world of a bright flare.

Greengrass also uses oceans of music. Music swells, crashes in waves, ebbs, flows, and is constant and deep. The music is effective and dramatic.

Tom Hanks is back big time. After wasting his talent in such trivia as Larry Crowne (2011), he returns to the emotional credibility he exhibited so exquisitely in Philadelphia (1993). In Larry Crowne Hanks gave one of the worst kisses in movie history. Fortunately, he has no kissing scenes in Captain Phillips.

Ray begins the film with banal dialogue. The first word is spoken by Phillips' wife (Catherine Keener). She says, "Ok." This is followed by her asking in their car, "Are you all right?" He answers, "Yeah."

But under crisis, the ordinary is swept away.

Much of Captain Phillips lies beneath the surface. Greengrass wants us to go beyond our preconceptions. It's a world of depths out there.

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin