It has been awhile since I’ve encountered a film so critically rich like for Paul Greengrass’ new film “Captain Phillips”, which returns Tom Hanks to the meatier type of roles he was known for in the 90’s. It is easily his best role since Cast Away, and he pulls together a great performance for this film, but this is still far from a perfect movie.
Tom Hanks is a good choice for the character of Captain Richard Phillips. He is an intelligent good-natured man and experienced Captain who is stern, but easy to negotiate with. He is always focused on what’s best for everyone, including the pirates, despite the circumstances. This is the type of everyman role that Hanks is known for and he brings a lot of gravitas to a role that is only about two-dimensional and a tad underdeveloped. You get a small sense of who Phillips is, both as a Captain and a family man but after the pirates show up, the film stops adding to the character and its up to the actor to stop building and work with what he has. The direction and camerawork coupled with the emotions on Hanks face give you a clear understanding of what Captain Phillips is thinking, and he acts as a suitable avatar for the audience. In the hands of someone else with the script alone this role may not have worked as well, but Hanks pulls it off despite the occasional drop in accent. This is what acting is all about.
I was surprised that there was a point of view for the pirates themselves. I read in a magazine interview that the filmmakers wanted to have more of a global view for the film, so it has a little time to spare in order develop the antagonists of the movie, they have their own scenes that set up their character and the motivations for their actions, but they remain mere archetypes. Had the film fleshed out these characters, given them a bit more to pair with the protagonist, it would have provided more of a balance and dynamic fluctuating tension, and the result would have been top-shelf cinema, however they mostly serve as a plot-driving force and the result remains just out of reach.
Due to having a weighty character like Phillips on one end, the biggest problem I have with the movie is that when he’s not given much to say or do around, the film starts to drag on a bit. Screen time goes by without any meaningful or interesting developments, and I found myself for the first time in months BORED at the cinema. This film could have been edited down from its 2:14 running time as the resulting length slacks the pacing and momentum of the film.
A surprising positive I found is with this film that had been lacking in others I’ve seen in recent memory is that it has one of the best scores I’ve heard this year, not because its particularly memorable (the ending theme seems to riff off of Hans Zimmer’s ‘Waking Up’ track from Inception), but because it adds a layer to the film rather that doesn’t interfere or distract . I did not think to myself, okay this is a sappy moment, this is a tense moment, I watched moment to moment and enjoyed most of the experience.
Captain Phillips is a film that represents just smart enough filmmaking, it is well crafted B-quality cinema that wades you through 2 hours with a great performance and some decent direction, resting on the slack tide inbetween.
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Columbia Pictures Presents I A Paul Greengrass Film
- Captain Phillips arrives in theatres on October 11th
It is worth noting that one of the real life Somali pirate named ‘Muse’ portrayed by Barkhad Abdi in the film was only roughly 17 at the time of the April 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama.
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