Former documentary film maker Paul Greengrass continues his domination every since arriving in the world of cinema (by being one of the only documentary film makers to get actors to act really well!), with ‘CAPTAIN PHILLIPS’, which to some could be a companion piece to that of his 2006 film ‘United 93’. Based on the true life tale on the Somali Pirates take over Captain Richard Phillips ship in 2009, this film is certainly something which will no doubt be in awards contention come February.
The thing about this film is that it is, incredibly tense. It has been a very long time since I have bit my nails in a cinema before. Everything from Greengrass’s camera direction (the movement to every jolt of action and water bop on the boat is conveying fly-on-the-wall realism), to the build-up in narrative structure (with every sequence seeming to outdo the last) is just a incredible achievement, and really shows how Paul Greengrass has grown as a film maker (including that of his documentary beginnings), making this film feel like everything come before that has built up to this (a bit like this narrative then).
I believe Greengrass of past would not have been able to pull this off. Not only is he creating a technical master class in film practitionalship, but also helping us some of the rawest acting I have seen in a Hollywood picture all year. The Captain (Tom Hanks) and the Somali Pirates (played by new comers to acting Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali) are two forces of nature. The first scene in which the Pirates burst into Phillips ship deck, is both intense and petrifying. Greengrass choosing not to have both Hanks and the actors playing the Pirates meet before filming the scene brings some of the most natural look reactions in its purist form. The new to acting, the Pirates really hold their own in this scene (mostly Abdi who’s leader – however I believe his co-stars should also get a lot of credit as well) against one of the most decorated actors in history of Hanks. People say ‘Acting is Reacting’ and while some of their reactions in the early stages are little glazed, its Hanks reaction to what they are saying which contributes to what could be exciting acting careers for the Pirates. It is also a testament to Hanks with the way he is ‘putting over’ the other guys, giving them room to work and show this isn’t just a one man show nor some star vehicle the films advertising might suggest. It is something I can see getting award nominations come Oscar’s time not just for Hanks (however I have a funny feeling him playing Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ might have a better chance with its more friendly content, from the looks of things)but Barkhad Abdi for Best Supporting as well.
Regarding to its general plotting, everything is very balanced and everything is played out as a game of one ups man ship (again helping in its intensity). Everything revolves around Phillips and his interactions with The Pirates even from the early stages. The very opening scene has this comparative variable of Phillips kissing his wife goodbye after talking to her about her son’s future, while in Somalia, you see the Pirates being forced to go out to sea to feed the poverty-stricken families. It really does give audience members characters, even from the early goings that balanced that it is hard to take to one side. `There is a undertone about globalization and neo-colonialism, all the action arguably is acting out a analogy back to colonialist times, while its whole political issue is about America’s globalized reach it now has. There is some ‘unbelieveable’ stuff in there, you do ask yourself, ‘’Really, Would you do that?’’, and you can tell which bits have been added in for dramatic purpose. But you have to remember this is a mainstream Hollywood thriller, it is expected.
To conclude, I would say this is one of the cinematic highlights of the year so far. Certainly one for deserved Oscar contention next year, but also one of the most emotional rewarding films you will see in 2013. If you have a chance to see it in IMAX I can’t imagine what the experience would be like (I needed a rest from its tension – let alone it’s very raw ending- when coming out from a normal multiplex screening). A incredible thrill ride of a film, and something you need to experience on a cinema screen right now. A similar related film titled ‘A Hijacking’ came out in the UK earlier in the year.