Yes friends, I’m late to the party. But every once in a while there comes a movie so breathtaking that you just have to put your gushing praise out there, even if you’re no Roger Ebert. The only other film that I watched this year that stuck with me like this was a small and underrated comedy called Safety Not Guaranteed.
Whereas Safety Not Guaranteed was a small flick that passed under the radar, Captain Phillips is the polar opposite, the proverbial blockbuster with big names attached to every appendage. Directed by Paul Greengrass of The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93 fame, produced by the guys behind The Social Network, Captain Phillip stars Tom Hanks along with a very talented group of African-Americans. It is based on the real life hijacking of the Maersk Alabalama container ship off the coast of Somalia on 8 April 2009, and its captain.
Watching Captain Phillips, I’m reminded of the Elmore Leonard quote, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Paul Greengrass waste no time on wordy expositions or social commentary. Instead what we get is 133 minutes of taut filmmaking that had me grabbing on to my seats for the entire time.
There’s a moment in the movie when the pirates threaten to kill the crew members and Tom Hank’s characters pleads with part confidence and part desperation, “I am the captain… I am the captain. If you’re gonna shoot somebody, you should shoot me!” This is one of Tom Hanks finest acting moments and if this doesn’t win him an Academy Award nomination again, movie goers will be very surprised.
The Somali pirates aren’t far behind either. Barkhad Abdi, who does most of the sparring with Captain Phillips, is utterly convincing as the weary Somali pirate captain who just wants to do his job well and go home in peace, if his bosses will allow him to. He’s no stranger to violence but also portrays a distinct humanistic side that we can all identify with.
Paul Greengrass’ trademark shaky cam is present here in Captain Phillips. But it is restrained and not as jarring here, while it nearly made The Bourne Untimatum unwatchable at some points. The storytelling never missteps and every single scene from the moment the captain spots the pirate ship is filled with tension and drama, deftly shot and cinematographed.
There are reports that, according to anonymous crewmembers of the Maersk Alabama, Captain Phillips was not as heroic as he is made out to be in the biopic. Paul Greengrass stood by the accuracy of his story in a recent Reddit AMA and I’m inclined to believe with him, for the simple reason that the crew members refuses to be open about their accusation. Yes, the captain received warnings about piracy concerns but he didn’t actually ignore them. In the movie we see him taking precautions and running drills in case of a pirate attack. His argument is that it won’t matter how far from the shore they sail; “I always told my crew a matter of attack was a matter of when, not if.” Besides, aren’t all bosses meant to be unlikable?
There’s another movie on the same subject that was released this year but has been completely overshadowed by the leviathan that is Captain Phillips. A Hijacking is a Danish movie directed by Tobias Lindholm, which explores the story behind a hijacking from another angle. It depicts the psychological tug-of-war between the CEO of the shipping company back home and the pirates’ negotiator on the ship. I stumbled on A Hijacking a few days while researching about the Maersk Alabama and found it to be as enjoyable as Captain Phillips, although the drama is less frenetic and fast-paced than the latter. Did you watch Captain Phillips and/or A Hijacking? If so, leave me a comment here and tell me how you felt about the movie (s).