Captain Phillips: a tense tale on the high seas

captain-phillips01That Paul Greengrass eh? He’s a sort. That shaky handheld camerawork, the subtle and compelling way he draws you into his films, making you feel his worlds are believable ones, absent Hollywood’s sheen for the most part.

Tonally to me, this feels part United 93, part Bourne, inasmuch as the action feels real. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Captain Phillips, for those that don’t know, is the real life tale of an American cargo ship captain, whose ship gets boarded by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The pirates underestimate the crew’s desire to hang on to the ship and decide fairly quickly to leave. But not before taking the captain hostage in a life raft. What follows is a Greengrass masterclass in tension.

Following Hanks having a whale of a time playing dress up on Cloud Atlas, this seems to be his penance. There’s no light-hearted moments here (except a couple of probably accidental ones), captain-phillips-poster-3Greengrass gives us about 15 minutes to settle in before twanging on our ‘fight or flight’ reflexes, like some sort of sadistic puppet master.

Hanks (as usual) is perfectly cast. Whilst he plays these everyman characters so well, that’s not to say he’s coasting in the slightest. It’s a considered, intelligent performance, one which he ensured was never showy, giving his Somalian counterparts room to do their thing too. Indeed, first time Somalian actor, Barkhad Abdi as leader of the pirates, was somewhat of a surprise. An intriguing blend of menace, intellect and compassion.

If I had a criticism it would be that there’s too much ‘America saves the day’, with navy seals, helicopters, and warships galore in the final third. Whilst still rooting for Phillips, Greengrass had cranked the ‘America, hell yeah!’ dial a little too much. To the point where I was slightly rooting for the pirates to be honest. Perhaps that was his aim. He’s a wily director, I wouldn’t put it past him to divide our sympathies.

Tom HanksHowever, to that end, perhaps more focus on the Somalis early on wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still, he gave them more screen time than many directors would and it’s a minor niggle in the grand scheme of things.

Ultimately this is a bold, uncompromising and thoroughly tense film from Greengrass, with another bravura performance from Hanks. Worth your time, just ensure you do something happy and uplifting afterwards in a safe environment, you’ll need to.

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