Latest Review – Captain Phillips (LFF) (Sony Pictures)

Tom Hanks

Captain Phillips

Sony Columbia / Paul Greengrass / 2013 / USA

Running Time: 134 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Genre: Drama

Certificate: 12A

Image: Colour

Language: English / Somali

Subtitles: English (for Somali dialogue)

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With his first feature film since the 2011 war thriller, ‘Green Zone’, British director Paul Greengrass, the man behind such acclaimed films as ‘Bloody Sunday’ (2002), ‘United 93’ (2006) and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ (2007), once again maintains his status as one of the finest action or conflict directors working in contemporary cinema with what proves one of his most assured, effectively constructed and enthralling works to date.

Perhaps best known for his dramatisations of real-life events, two of which are listed above, ‘Captain Phillips’ once again sees Greengrass returning to the subject area in which he is clearly most comfortable to produce a searing drama that succeeds on all the levels in which Gravity, the other notable big-budget Hollywood survival epic released this quarter, unfortunately struggled, achieving a perfect balance between intense, visceral drama, compelling action and harrowing, personal emotion.

Adapted by screenwriter Billy Ray from ‘A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea’ the 2010 autobiographical novel by Captain Richard Phillips himself (co-written with Stephan Talty), the film presents a complex dramatisation of the hijacking of the US container ship, MV Maersk Alabama (the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years) by Somali pirates in April 2009, Phillips’ subsequent capture and five-day, lifeboat hostage ordeal at the hands of the pirates, and the attempted rescue mission by the large US Navy task force assigned to the operation.

Greengrass directs with such a powerful sense of affirmation and aesthetic quality that at no point does the piece ever begin to lose clarity or deviate from its primary focus.

Yes it could be argued that there is a possible critique of capitalism and global politics weaved through the piece but I don’t really want to get onto a discussion of political inclinations, conjecture and allegorical themes because I personally don’t feel the film conclusively hints towards any.

Brutal and very authentic in its depiction of the events that unfolded, and incredibly shrewd in its overall construction, Greengrass bestows the film with a distinct air of energy, vehemence and resonance throughout, effectively ensuring the piece never verges on sentimental territory and evokes an enduring quality throughout.

The fact that the film doesn’t begin particularly slowly, or gradually develop as the events unfold, is further testament to Greengrass’ directorial skill as the frenetic pacing is impeccably achieved throughout, laced with moments of incredible tension, vulnerability and profound intimacy, ultimately building to such an enthralling finale, that we almost begin to forget that we know the true outcome of the story.

Tom Hanks delivers of his most assured, affecting and complete performances in years as the eponymous Captain, with fine support from a relatively little known ensemble, however special mention must go to the Somalian-American newcomers, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali for their utterly chilling performances as the four pirates, with Abdi proving particularly outstanding as the Somali hijacker leader, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse.

Lensed by the Academy Award-nominated cinematographer (‘The Hurt Locker’, 2010) and regular Greengrass collaborator, Barry Ackroyd, and combining Ackroyd’s natural, neo-realistic style (best seen in his frequent collaborations with Ken Loach) and the director’s signature use of hand-held photography, the beautifully rendered visuals prove sharp, intense and effectively immersive.

Accompanied by the intricate and often pulsating rhythmic orchestral score from British composer Henry Jackman (his fifth film score of 2013, following his work on ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’, ‘This Is The End’, ‘Turbo’ and ‘Kick-Ass 2’) the haunting tones of the piece are further brought powerfully to life.

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