Monday, October 14, 2013

Movie Review: Thrilling 'Captain Phillips' tells intimate, realistic tale

This column was originally published in the KPC Media Group newspapers and online at Read the original column here. Republished on The Pop Tarts with permission. 

By this time, it shouldn't be surprising when Tom Hanks gives a fantastic performance. He's won numerous awards for a variety of roles, and he is arguably one of the most recognizable actors working today.

And yet, in "Captain Phillips," Hanks managed to stun me again with a raw, intimate portrayal of the real-life ship's captain kidnapped by Somali pirates.

Hanks plays the titular Captain Richard Phillips, the captain of the American cargo ship Maersk Alabama. If you remember your recent history, you'll remember that the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates and Phillips was taken hostage on a lifeboat on its way back to Somalia. The movie follows Phillips through his terrifying ordeal.

"Captain Phillips" is an excellent character study of a very brave ordinary American, and it's fascinating to watch as he methodically calculates every action. Phillips starts out businesslike, adhering to the procedures laid out for such an attack, but it's easy to see that he is on the lookout for every opportunity to gain the upper hand on the pirates. There's a craftiness about him, but he also has a folksy charm that helps him get through the ordeal. Even as desperation begins to set in, as his time on the lifeboat draws on and the U.S. Navy gets involved, he's still stunningly polite and helpful for the situation. At some times, it's clear that he's taking calculated risks in order to stay alive a little bit longer, but there are genuine moments of humanity amid the chaos of the situation.

And that humanity is what really makes "Captain Phillips" a special movie. Of course Phillips' humanity is going to come through - he's the hero of the movie, after all - but the movie never forgets that the Somali pirates, as bad as they are, are people too. The pirate's leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), is a man caught in a very tough situation, and by the end of the movie, it's not hard to sympathize with him. It's a risk giving Muse and his crew complexity as characters, because our natural inclination is to hate them outright for the hell they put Phillips through. And make no mistake, the pirates are not warm, cuddly characters, and there's a profound sense of relief at what happens to them. But their humanity makes the movie so much richer and more satisfying than it would be if they were stock villains.

But "Captain Phillips" is really Tom Hanks' movie. He gives a powerful, heart-wrenching performance that may be the best of his long and successful career. There's a raw emotional uncurrent to the entire movie, which keeps bubbling up through Phillips' matter-of-fact facade, until, after he is rescued, he's finally allowed to let his true emotions show. There are two long scenes of this at the end of the movie that are among the most moving scenes I've ever seen. Hanks' performance is nothing short of remarkable, and I'll be shocked if he isn't nominated for an Oscar for the role.

"Captain Phillips" really is a remarkable film. It's a smart, layered movie with brilliant performances and a fascinating, thrilling story. I realize that just last week I declared "Gravity" "the best film of the year so far," but "Captain Phillips" gives it a run for its money. It's a different kind of movie - far more traditional in structure and shot in a very different style - but it, too, is among the most exciting and moving movies of 2013.

Jenny's Take: See it tonight.

(Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use. Runs 134 minutes.)

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