BR: Captain Phillips (2013)

February 14, 2014 | By

Film: Excellent / BR Transfer:  Excellent/ BR Extras: Very Good

Label: Sony / Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released:January 21, 2014

Genre: Drama / Doc-Drama

Synopsis: True story of how the captain of a shipping vessel saved his crew from a band of Somali pirates, and survived a brutal ransom ordeal.

Special Features:  Audio commentary with director Paul Greengrass / 3-part making-of documentary: “Capturing Captain Phillips” (58:40) / Includes DVD + UV Digital HD copies.




Both Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking (2012) and Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips (2013) deal with Somali pirates taking over merchant ships, but the two films present vastly different scenarios – and stand strong on their own as superior dramas.

Whereas Hijacking is humanistic in presenting the various sides of the drama – a corporate CEO clearly overwhelmed by managing hostage negotiations, the exhausted trapped seamen, and the frustrated and trigger-happy captors – Phillips, based on the real events of Captain Richard Phillips, is more docu-drama, ultimately revealing the kidnappers as greedy thugs.

There’s a key point when Phillips says to the leader Muse, “You’re not a fisherman,” and the lack of an answer makes it clear these men are in a dangerous game of cat and mouse for the money and the thrill of the risk. It’s also the need and greed for excitement, plus the fear of failing gang leaders and paying with their lives, which push four men to take over an entire shipping cruiser. It’s an incredible sequence to observe because it demonstrates the huge advantage a small group with violent means have over a full crew unaccustomed to guns, knives, and spilled blood. It’s only when Phillips tells the men to hide in the belly of the ship use their wits to evade capture that violence is returned with action, and yet Phillips isn’t an action movie but a skillfully constructed docu-drama.

Greengrass, much more restrained in his editorial technique than in his Bourne films, beautifully choreographs the fairly straightforward tale of Phillips’ professionalism which saved his crew from harm, stalled timed for a team of U.S. SEALs to hasten the drama’s end, and stood up to his kidnappers at strategic junctures.

Employing a wide range of handheld cameras and diverse POVs, Greengrass covers the mundane and the outrageous like a documentary, and the nature of the camerawork (which isn’t the voguish, bullshit shakycam style) and Christopher Rouse’s editing totally immerses viewers into the drama, making this an exceptionally intense film in spite of its 2+ hour running time.

Henry Jackman’s score is never showy, and perhaps following the same stealth palette of tones and rhythms John Powell used for Greengrass’ United 93 (2006), enhances the drama without overstaying or overstating. Ultimately, the anchor in the film’s dramatic arc is Tom Hanks, underplaying Phillips without an ounce of melodrama or grandstanding, and saving the man’s anguish and shock for a final scene which gives closure to audiences perhaps needing to see the hero collapse, deflate, and slowly begin the path to self-mending after a nasty ordeal.

Supporting actors Chris Mulkey (Twin Peaks) and blink-fast-and-she’s-gone Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) are the most recognizable in an otherwise unknown cast, and Barkhad Abdi – a former chauffeur making his acting debut alongside Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali – is equally strong as a pirate who slowly sinks into denial and delusion when his prize of millions in hostage bounty evaporates.

Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Earth 2) wisely end the film without sentimentality, faux closure or melodrama, and stay true to their design of an immersive and intense experience.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan


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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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