Captain Phillips is a very well executed film. There’s suspense galore, a gripping story, and a great performance by Tom Hanks. I liked the film, but for some reason I’m not over the moon about it like a lot of people are. I thought it dragged a bit in the middle, and there were some unbelievable things along the way. I can’t really fault anybody for liking this film more than I did, but for some reason it didn’t really get to me on a personal level, and that’s the main reason why I’m not going to come away heavily praising it like most.
Captain Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) is starting off on a journey around the horn of Africa, captaining the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama. As they are coming near to Somalia, Somali pirates pursue and board the ship with weapons, and take control. A game of cat and mouse develops on board, and as an exchange is being made, the pirates leave the ship with Captain Phillips in a life boat. Military help is long in coming, but it does come, leading to a very intense last half hour or so. The film was based on true events from 2009, which I know hardly anything about, so if the film is inaccurate there’s no way I would know about it.
The first thing I would like to emphasize here is the incredible performance of Tom Hanks. Hanks is probably still the most popular actor in America, even though his heyday in terms of awards was back in the early nineties. To echo basically everybody (except the Academy it seems) Hanks is very very good here. He disappears into the role, even though his character is not exactly vibrant, he makes Phillips memorable. I can’t emphasize enough how good he is in the last half hour of the film (more on that in spoiler section); he kept all his panic and emotion in for most of the movie, but in the end he just lets go and it’s heartbreaking and very powerful. Barhad Abdi, who plays the lead Somali pirate and did get a nomination, is also very good, especially as it’s his first time acting. His character doesn’t really get the depth that Hanks’ does though, you can feel it’s there in some scenes but it is never fully brought to the surface as Hanks’ is in the final scenes of the film.
On the negative side of things, I don’t know if it actually happened this way, but the pirates first show up when the Alabama crew is running drills in case pirates show up. It just rubbed me the wrong way that the pirates would appear exactly when they were all preparing for pirates to appear. It felt way too much like a movie at that point, like of course the pirates would show up at this exact moment. Phillips had been reading about pirates on the internet in the scene before, so all of it felt like very manipulative, like “audience, make sure you feel dread that pirates are coming, because they are!” However, these problems were alleviated once the pirates actually started attacking. Even though I was beginning to loose interest in the middle (I can’t even remember why), the film had me right back on board at the ending.
Another thing that I really can’t emphasize enough is how awesome the ending of this movie is. The military finally shows up, and we get an aircraft carrier, a hostage negotiator, and Navy SEALS! Captain Phillips is in the lifeboat with the pirates, and Muse (the leader, played by Abdi) is convinced to come aboard the Navy ship. The pirates start to get very skittish without proper leadership, and there are a few more injuries. Phillips tries to swim away, but it doesn’t work, and he is becoming even more desperate. The negotiator takes another crack at the pirates, no dice, and Captain Phillips looks like he’s actually about to die for real this time, so the snipers just take out all of the pirates (minus Muse, who’s with the Navy) just like that. It’s shocking to see the situation diffused so quickly. It just made me think about the might of the US military, because it seems like we could just shoot all those pirates at any time and we were holding back just to be nice. Living in the US, sometimes it’s hard to imagine being a part of the most powerful country in the world because I’m just a lowly college student with lots of debt and bad grades, but wow. That was crazy. I wished they had sort of explored that a bit more with the aftermath, but I realize they were trying to tell the personal story of Phillips so that wasn’t really going to happen. Also I loved the irony with Muse going back to America to stand trial, when he previously stated that all he wanted to do in the first place was go to New York and buy a car.
So, I may have liked the last half hour way more than everything that lead up to it, but still Captain Phillips is a pretty good film. I’m not convinced it deserves a best picture nomination over the likes of Inside Llewyn Davis for example, but still, it’s an enjoyable and suspenseful film that I can’t really see anybody having any major issues with. I definitely think Hanks got snubbed of an Oscar nomination, as he was really great here and this is the best I’ve seen from in a while, maybe ever. Even though I have some problems with it and am not really hurrying out to see it again, I can see why it’s a favorite of many.
“Captain Phillips, can you hear me?!”
Long story short: 3/4
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