Captain Phillips (2013)

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Ben
This film was a surprise for me. We all expect Tom Hanks to be great because he has been for nearly 30 years. What sets this film apart from other kidnapping films though, is the portrayal of the Somali pirates. It would’ve been so easy to make them cookie cutter bad guys with no motivation, but director Paul Greengrass does a really good job of making them seem like real people. You have a lot of sympathy for the Somalis even though you know what they’re doing is wrong. We get enough of a backstory on the terrorists to feel their plight a little bit. It doesn’t justify their actions, but you still at least feel some sympathy toward what must be a really horrible life for them.

The film covers actual events that occurred in 2009 when the American cargo ship, Maersk Alabama, is hijacked by Somali pirates. They take the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips (Hanks), hostage in the hope of receiving a massive bounty for his release. The film covers the events leading up to the hijacking, as well as the whole saga that Phillips endures with these Somali pirates.

It’s a good thing the terrorists are so enthralling. The movie is mostly Hanks and the four terrorists filling up the screen. Hanks has done a movie all on his own before in Cast Away, but even there he had a volleyball to talk too. If the terrorists were not interesting characters, the film would’ve suffered because most of the film is just Hanks and them.

There’s not much to say about this film. It is a gripping look at a real life piracy event. I’m sure the events shown in this film are not 100% accurate, but who cares. It is very entertaining, despite the fact you already know the ending. The standout for me is the leader of the Somali pirates, Muse (Barkhad Abdi). He is sometimes terrifying, but then you can see how desperate he is at times too, and have sympathy for his plight. It is a really great performance which was rightly recognised with an Oscar nomination this year. Hanks should have received an Oscar nomination for this film, he is great. There is a particularly brilliant scene toward the end of the film where he is being examined by the armed forces after his rescue. You really to feel his relief that this ordeal is finally over as Phillips starts to go into shock during his check-up. It is one of the most moving scenes of the film. Sorry for mentioning spoilers, but this scene was so powerful for me, it warranted a mention. Also, I’d like to think anyone who was around in 2009 should know how Captain Phillips’ nightmare ends.

This is a quality film, but it is something we’ve come to expect from Hanks. It says a lot about his ability when he can be brilliant and the audience’s reaction is pretty much ‘what else is new’. Great film though. One of my favourites of 2013.

Rating: A-


Sally
This film was a bit weird to watch. The events on which it is based happened in 2009. It was odd to hear that a film was being made about the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, a story that I followed so closely via the nightly news a mere four years later. But at the same time, I knew very little about what actually happened on the ship, or the history of piracy in Somalia. So while I knew how it would end, there were enough unknown elements to entice me onto the theater.

The one aspect of this film that impressed me the most is that it didn’t portray the Somali pirates as run of the mill villains. Though the background on these characters is a bit scant, it does set up the fact that they are young men (teens to early twenties) with few options for earning a living in their country. It would have been nice if the film maybe discussed the exploitation of the country in the wake of Somalia’s civil war, but it at least makes it clear that these young men and teens know that what they are doing is wrong, and yet they don’t have many other options available to them.

On the other hand, the movie doesn’t delve into the personal lives of the ship’s crew either. There’s an opening scene of Phillips and his wife discussing their family on the way to work, and a few mentions of them here and there while he is held hostage. But that’s it. The film is solely about what happens on the ship and in the lifeboat, which I also liked. I’m sure the temptation was there to include scenes of Phillips’ family waiting anxiously for news of their loved one, but I feel the movie is stronger for excluding them. Captain Phillips creates a tight narrative by limiting the action to the ships involved in the crisis. Not a single scene feels superfluous.

And how great is Tom Hanks? Seriously, him not receiving even a nomination at this year’s Oscars was a major snub. The final scene of this movie made me tear up, he’s just that good. His costar Barkhad Abdi, who plays the lead pirate, is also amazing. His Oscar nomination was well deserved, and I feel he should have won.

Rating: A

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