Captain Phillips, first review
September 28, 2013
British director Paul Greengrass has the rare gift of working with action-thriller material and making something cohesive, layered and complex from it. He did so superbly in United 93 and in his two Bourne films: and with Captain Phillips, an account of Somali pirates boarding an American cargo ship and kidnapping its captain, Greengrass remains at the top of his game.
The film also features an outstanding performance by Tom Hanks, who has been handed his strongest lead role in years: both he and Greengrass should find themselves short-listed for awards in coming months.
Hanks plays to his strengths as an average guy, in this case one in extreme circumstances. We first see him driving from his Vermont home with his wife (Catherine Keener) to catch a flight to the Middle East: his cargo ship leaves from Oman, bound for Mombasa in notoriously dangerous waters. Hanks has the air of a reluctant employee handed a distasteful work project; even before it starts it’s clear he wants it over and done with.
On board the giant Maersk Alabama, manned by an all- American crew, Hanks curtly orders safety procedures and has them double-checked. His worst fears are confirmed when two small motor boats are observed on his radar, bearing down on the Alabama. It seems implausible that the four armed Somalis on these tiny craft could board the slow, hulking ship, but they do.
The suspense gradually increases during this protracted cat-and-mouse game, but Greengrass has merely established a base level of intensity and ratchets it up as the film progresses.
Gratifyingly, the four pirates are not sketchily drawn and interchangeable; in the tense stand-off on board, all gradually emerge as rounded characters. But it´s been made clear in a short prologue that they’re all fisherman living on the poverty line. There's no mention of al-Qaida or religion: they're in the piracy game for the money.
As negotiations between Phillips and the pirates falter, he is kidnapped and taken with them aboard a tiny lifeboat in which they optimstically hope to reach the Somali coast. At this point the diverse might of the US military makes its presence felt.
The film is based on Phillips's subsequent memoir, so an upbeat ending is never in doubt: but it still subjects its audience to a heart-in-mouth ordeal. Hanks's tearful final scenes, portraying a relieved man in deep shock, are very fine: it’s the most raw, emotional acting he`s ever delivered on screen.
Still, it's Greengrass who has engineered this climax, with his mastery of logistics (he seems to have dozens of cameras everywhere), an acute sense of the political nuances at stake, and the ability to cut fast and sharp to maximise tension.
The opening title in the London Film Festival, Captain Phillips is a triumph of solid, professional and sometimes inspired film crafts, deserving of all the plaudits that come its way.
Source : The Telegraph