At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Captain Phillips “2013”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Biographical Thriller/Stars: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Michael Chernus, David Warshofsky, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey, Mark Holden, Angus MacInnes, Louis Mahoney, Vincenzo Nicoli, Maria Dizzia, John Magaro, Gigi Raines, Riann Steele, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Mohamed Ali, Issak Farah Samatar, Idurus Shiish, Azeez Mohammed, Nasir Jamas, Yul Vazquez, Max Martini, Omar Berdouni/Runtime: 134 minutes

Right off the bat, I guess the main thing I should tell you about the slice of cinema that I am reviewing today, 2013’s Captain Phillips, is that this is a film that will have you on the edge of your seat in the best way possible. Indeed this slice of cinema is based on the true story of the series of events that ensued when a US ship captain had his cargo ship taken over by a quartet of Somali pirates and even comes equipped with some advice to terrorists in movies. That being that if you are going to terrorize a character played by Tom Hanks, do not be surprised if neither he nor other extremely concerned parties do everything in their power to make sure you do not get away with it. Quips aside, there is no denying that even if you know how this particular narrative was resolved this is still taut and thrilling movie magic at its finest. Indeed from terrific work done behind the camera in making this as authentic and gripping as possible to a collection of truly riveting performances led by one of the best actors of his generation, Captain Phillips isn’t just a thrilling slice of cinema, but also a genuinely great film period.

The plot is as follows: Captain Phillips gets underway as we see a man living in the state of Vermont by the name of (gee what do you think?) Richard Phillips as he is taken by his loving and concerned wife Andrea to the airport so he can climb on a plane that is heading to the Port of Salalah in Oman. The reason is because Phillips is the captain of a vessel known as the Maersk Alabama which happens to be a U.S.-flag rocking cargo ship that for its latest assignment is going to be making its way through waters that are known hunting grounds for pirates. A fact incidentally that is not lost on our hero as we see that, upon embarking, he instructs both his crew and loyal first officer Shane Murphy to increase security on the ship, keep all doors locked, and have the day to day procedures onboard down to a science. However when a cautionary email talking about an increase in the level of piracy in the area convinces our hero to engage the ship in a spontaneous piracy prevention drill, things take a terrifying turn when a pair of ominous fishing boats show up on the Alabama’s radar. Yet despite Phillips pushing both the ship and her crew to their limits to say nothing of calls to British and American emergency lines going nowhere, we see that the Alabama is able to evade her pursuers. The next day though, we see a true nightmare begin to form when a singular boat with a quartet of pirates engages in pursuit of the Alabama and this time she actually is boarded by the men on the fishing boat. Thus Phillips makes it clear that the rest of the crew needs to make themselves scarce whilst he and the rest of the officers on the bridge are swiftly held at gunpoint. We soon learn that the quartet of men, led by a very solemn and stoic young man named Muse, are adamant about finding the crew and holding them for ransom in the hopes the U.S. Government pays them a fortune for their safe return. However we soon see that Phillips has no plans to let that happen and as a result tries to stall the pirates and keep the crew alive whilst the crew works to systematically shut the ship’s various compartments down and basically make this hijacking a moot exercise. Yet as time goes on and the group of pirates start to really get fed up with Phillips and the crew for all intents and purposes screwing with them and playing one of the deadliest games of hide and go seek I have ever seen, we see that it isn’t long before the pirates decide to make a crucial choice. One that will have more than quite a few ramifications to say nothing of being one that could very well change the lives of both the captors and their hostages forever….

Now, much like the various waves that make up a day on the ocean, we see that film helmer Paul Greengrass chooses to deploy a rise and fall tempo style that helps to increase the amount of realism on display. Also of note is the fact that while some helmers would choose to take us to the climax as quickly as possible, Greengrass instead is patient and wisely stretches things out whilst mixing shots of adrenaline with character moments to help us understand these characters and their motives for why they are doing what they do. Now it is not the easiest task in the world to cram a crisis that lasted about five days into a slice of cinema, including credits, that lasts about 2 hrs. and 14 minutes, but in that regard praise must be given to this film’s screenplay. Indeed not only does it do wonderful at fleshing out the cast of characters and the overall atmosphere of the film, but also inserting them wonderfully into the film’s narrative as well. It’s also worth pointing out that this film’s crew made the brilliant choice to shoot a lot of the movie actually in the ocean. A choice that actually provides the movie with a wonderful degree of realism, but also strengthens the ominous and suspenseful mood as well. Yes I will be the first to acknowledge that Greengrass’ technique of handheld camera utilization has never been my favorite thing to sit through (especially in 2016’s Jason Bourne), but this shaky camera-style does actually fit this film fairly well not just as a way to back up the ocean setting, but also to show just how uncertain and potentially explosive this situation could become even if the shakiness does go into overkill mode every so often. Finally, I also feel praise must be given to Henry Jackman for giving this film a score that does a truly wonderful job of consistently raising the heart rate of both the movie and you, the viewer aggressively throughout.

Of course it should be noted that the incredible work by Greengrass and the crew behind the camera would not be nowhere near as effective as it turns out to be if this slice of cinema did not have the collection of top-flight performances that it does in front of the camera. Indeed every single person in this truly gifted cast manages to do a wonderful job of really fleshing their respective parts out to say nothing of making them as authentic as they possibly can. This starts with screen icon (and one of my all-time favorite actors) Tom Hanks in the lead role and once again he is downright magnificent as he manages to immerse himself in this role with a believability that is nothing short of magical in every sense of the word. Indeed Hanks gives us a character who is very much an everyman that is in equal measure quite assertive when it comes to his role onboard the ship as captain and positive he is the best man for the job whilst also being a guy who hides his fear of the situation he and his crew have been thrust into fairly well for the sake of everyone onboard with him whilst also slowly but surely seeing his iron will crumbling away the longer this situation goes on and the more he finds an AK-47 or pistol placed up against his head. Suffice it to say that it is this internal conflict that is constantly brought into play as the minutes go by and with each twist and turn that this crisis goes through. Be that as it may be, there is no denying that Hanks does a (typical for Hanks) fantastic job at giving us this three-dimensional character and makes every single moment we get to spend with him matter in one way or another. A fact that is especially true when looking at his final scene in this where, without going into spoilers, we see Phillips finally stop acting tough for everyone’s sake and just unleash the kind of raw and potent human pathos that can only be conjured up in a human being by going through the absolute wringer and back. Suffice it to say it is another truly incredible performance from a screen legend who has time and time again given us performances that are no more and no less than iconic. Yet as great as Hanks is in this movie, we are able to see that he is brilliantly matched up beat for beat in this slice of cinema by (at that particular time) newcomer to the world of cinema Barkhad Abdi who manages to give a riveting and terrifyingly realistic turn in this as the leader of the band of pirates who are successfully able to take over the Maersk Alabama only to quickly find himself in over his head and forced to improvise whilst also dealing with a fellow ship captain that is just as smart and loyal to his crew as he is. Indeed Abdi manages to bring to this role both a screen presence that feels incredibly realistic as well as an immersive comprehension of acting that he proves not only through every look he does or movement he makes, but also by showing a bit more of a soul that the vast majority of cinematic villains are sadly lacking at times. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinema is almost as much Abdi’s movie as it is Hanks’ and the tango of terror, anxiety, a fair bit of blood, and a pretty decent size bucket of sweat that these two engage in is something truly remarkable to behold.

All in all and at the end of the day I think it can be safely said that it really does take a special slice of cinema in order to conjure up a locale that not only feels as realistic as possible, but that also is able to put you, the viewer in comprehensible and seemingly genuine danger along with its cast of characters as well as be skilled enough to take us back to a riveting point in time that dealt with realistic tension, risks, and an odd comprehension of sorts between a pair of enemies. Not to mention, but there are not that many slices of cinema that are as skilled at building vividly three-dimensional characters whilst also putting them through the absolute wringer as well as molding for us a slice of cinema that is so gripping that you are literally immersed in the world the film is painting for you whilst leaving you sweating and on the edge of your seat as much as the characters. Finally, it is the distinct slice of cinema that is able to deal with a highly known about true story, that the majority of people know the outcome of, and still able to conjure up in equal measure suspense and genuine terror and emotional agony throughout the course of the film. The reason I bring this all up is because I am of the firm belief that distinct film helmer Paul Greengrass’ 2013 slice of cinema Captain Phillips is a fantastic example of everything I just mentioned. Indeed here is a truly wonderful film that isn’t just able to be a terrific mix of taut narrative, thrilling action, emotion, and terror that will leave you literally on the edge of your seat. More than that though, this is a slice of cinema that is equipped with flawless work behind the camera, phenomenal performances in front of the camera, and a true story narrative that is both thrilling and incredible in equal measure. Suffice it to say that that Captain Phillips can proudly call itself one of the best movies the year 2013 sought fit to give us to say nothing of being wonderful proof that Paul Greengrass is a truly masterclass film helmer and lead actor Tom Hanks is easily one of the finest actors of his generation. Yet even with that in mind I think it should be noted that Captain Phillips really truly is more than just a top-flight slice of cinema. Rather it is also an incredible example of a film that takes ahold of you and never lets go whilst also regaling you with a taut and thrilling narrative of true peril, heroics, and horror that is both wonderfully helmed and powerfully performed by a true powerhouse of a cast with a true legend in every sense of the word leading the way thus making for a slice of cinema that is a true must see in every sense of the word. On a scale of 1-5 I give Captain Phillips “2013” a solid 4 out of 5.