Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Captain Phillips - Surprise Pirates

       I hate trailers – they suck.

       I wrote about it ages ago in a post which you can read HERE.

        Anyway, I had seen the trailer for Captain Phillips a bajillion times whilst watching other recent films at the cinema. It was one of those ‘meh’ films that looked okay, but seemed to have shown everything in the trailer. I initially didint plan to to watch it but the buzz on it was good after it came out, so I went - and was pleasantly surprised.

        Directed by Paul Greengrass who made United 93 (tense and realistic dramatisation of the 9/11 hijacked plane that crashed in a field – effective but somewhat depressing), Green Zone (ok for what it was) and two Bourne films (Supremacy and Ultimatum - both over complicated and thoroughly forgettable), I expected the film to follow in his trademark style - lots of shaky cam and naturalistic performances to create a more realistic and almost documentarian portrayal.
        Captain Phillips does indeed feature those things, but also ups the drama and tension quota to emerge as one of the surprisingly good films of the year.

        So back to the trailer… It’s misleading. It's not Under Siege. It’s not Die Hard on a boat. There isn’t even that much action. It’s more just about human drama and tension (lots of it), with realistic characters that act in a realistic way. In fact, it’s really only the events of the first half of the movie that are glimpsed in the trailer (the pirates boarding the ship) whereas the second half (the hostage situation aboard the lifeboat) is noticeably absent.
        Sure that part is pretty long and is dragged out just long enough to help identify with all those on board going stir crazy and to ratchet up the tension. There is a distinct lack of Hollywood bombast, lots of procedural stuff without getting boring and you as the viewer are always aware of the situation and what’s going on. Much like the Navy Seals calmly packing up their equipment and walking off at the end, this film does its job and then leaves. No unnecessary extra melodrama – just the immediate event and that's it – making sure that we, as the audience are right there the whole time.
        It's the kind of film that makes you interested in the true story of what happened (although it’s been rumoured that the real life Captain Phillips was no way near that heroic).

         Whatever the truth, Tom Hanks is superb as the title character. It’s always hard for a megastar to disappear into a role but when the acting is that good it doesn't really matter. Even in scenes when he’s not even speaking you can almost always see what’s going on in his head and his final scene is simply a jaw-droppingly awesome acting tour de force – maybe even the best I’ve seen from him. Ever.
        The Somali pirates are all great in this too. It also helps that Greengrass has ensured they they weren't just cookie-cutter villains. Each has a distinct character that emerges as the film goes on and with their introductory scenes (mirroring and contrasting heavily with Phillip’s own) you can’t help but feel that they are just as much victims of their own circumstances. They are human characters – not just blank faces of evil – and you almost feel sorry for them and their impossible situation at points as their desperation grows towards the end of the film.

        The real find here is Barkhad Abdi as the leader of the group ‘Muse’ – impressive considering he hasn't acted before. At times quietly threatening, steadfast and resolute and even managing to squeeze in some dry wit and banter with Hanks – he looks and acts scarily authentic throughout.

        So Captain Phillips (I still think they could have used a better name for the film!) was a pleasant surprise for me – which once again goes to show that you can’t trust trailers – and I would recommend it to anyone. The performances are excellent and its realism makes it one of the most tense films of recent times - even more so than last year's nail-biter Argo.

29th Oct 2013

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