Friday, December 13, 2013

Captain Phillips

Based on a true story, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Richard Phillips whose cargo ship was hijacked in April of 2009 while making a supply run down the Somali coast to Mombasa, Kenya. The latest from director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray (who adapted Phillips' own accounts for the film) can be broken up nearly equally into two halves. The first-half of the film deals with the set-up, rising tension, and attack of the Somali pirates (Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali). It's here Greengrass is at his best with the focus on the looming attack and its immediate aftermath.

The film's second-half, although still well-made, lacks the same focus as the pirates kidnap Phillips and the cargo ship's lifeboat in hopes of ransoming the captain to make up for the less than profitable venture. From here Captain Phillips jumps around quite a bit from Phillips' captivity, to the Naval Destroyer called in to deal with the situation, to the crew still aboard the cargo ship, and finally to the SEAL team eventually called on to bring an end to the situation.

The film's second-half could certainly use some editing. Although we get plenty of good acting aboard the tiny lifeboat, not much changes in the hours Phillips spent being held captive. And although the movie shows us several members the crew of the battleship and SEAL team, none of them are given a proper introduction and not enough time is spent with any of these characters (or their actual planning of the rescue mission) to justify the amount of time taken away from Phillips' own story (which, as the title informs us, is the real focus of the movie) for their limited perspective.

Hanks is strong in a role that removes him of his natural humor and easy-going nature. Although not well liked by his crew, Phillips experience and sacrifice helps save their lives (although other members of the crew have disputed the man's heroic nature as depicted in the film). For the script's version of Phillips, we get glimpses of his relationship to his wife and various members of the crew to make an informed decision on the man's character, but the film could certainly have used and epilogue (rather than a couple of lines of text) to discuss how these events effected the captain moving forward.

Captain Phillips has done well both critically and at the box office earning around $200 million worldwide. It's certainly an easy recommendation to make, but given how good the set-up is I left somewhat disappointed with the end result. Greengrass can't find a way to make the second-half of the film as interesting as the first drawing out events of Phillips' captivity to Peter Jackson-like levels. The result is a very good film that, in other hands, might have been a great one.

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