Captain Phillips (2013) Film Review from the 57th Annual BFI London Film Festival (LFF), a movie directed by Paul Greengrass, starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, David Warshofsky, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey, Yui Vazquez, Max Marini, Omar Berdouni, Mohamed Ali and Issak Farah Samatar.
Captain Phillips is Paul Greengrass’s best film even when compared to critically and commercially acclaimed projects of his like the Bourne installments and United 93. The film is great for its electrifying tension, the captivating true life story, and above all else for one of the greatest performances in Tom Hanks’ career. It’s a great thriller. It is simply and clearly shot but in the same time it has smart, efficient, superbly employed editing. This has always been Greengrass’s ever-successful film-making formula and in Captain Phillips it is more effective than ever before.
The real-life story is truly inspiring. We witness a self-sacrificing hero in modern, deprived-of-morality times. The way Richard Phillips’s humane and righteous character stands out and struggles in the face of mortal danger is what lies in the heart of the film’s message (the unpredictable will happen in your life but you have to try, do your best, do the right thing, and be ready). I admired the bad captain-good captain opposition that is underlined in Greengrass’s film. For some people it might look like a cliche and it might even bore some individuals at some point since all they might see is yet another American defeating the bad guys. Captain Phillips is about a great human being, not a national action hero, and it can’t be otherwise. The film’s phenomenally emotive ending proves that point.
In Captain Phillips we see plenty of spectacular images. The footage of the docks and the Alabama ship are a pleasure to behold. The true reason for the success of the visual style of the film is its simplicity. Nothing is hidden and there are no symbolically meaningful, complex shots. The shots are simple and the viewer sees and understands everything. There is only one heavily artistic shot and it is wonderful: an air view of the lifeboat of Phillips being tied with a thin rope to his salvation, an approaching American ship. It is a great long shot of Phillips’ story depicting the tenuous fragility and weak hope for a positive outcome to his story. We see the image and the feeling overwhelms us. This is how pretty much every element of Greengrass’ visual style works in Captain Phillips.
Paul Greengrass has always been one of the great masters of editing films and his exceptional skill is also obvious in Captain Phillips. When we need to be close to the character, the shots are long and careful. The more tension we have the faster the shots start to cut from one to the other. Some of the greatest, most edge-of-your-seat sequences are accomplished exactly through this superbly quick and efficient editing style. Captain Phillips reconfirms that Greengrass knows how to cut to shreds a scene and make your heart beat faster and faster. The film also reminds the viewer that Greengrass is perfectly aware of how to keep the moment long, effective, devouring, immersive, and unforgettable.
Tom Hanks has never been so good in recent memory. In fact, I don’t remember him being that good at any point especially when it comes down to the last act of Captain Phillips. He depicts one individual and yet he successfully elicits the courage and the steel-hard discipline of a captain, the fear and the grief of a husband, and the desperation and the shock of a hostage. It is a brilliant portrayal and probably responsible for half the film’s positive reviews. Make no mistake, the decisions made by Paul Greengrass, the writers, cinematographers, and editors are just as important for the film’s success. Nevertheless, it is Tom Hanks’s magnificent portrayal of this real life person that makes Captain Phillips the most engaging and powerful thriller I have seen all year so far.
Captain Phillips unites the very best of the talents of Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks while stunning the audience with the tale of a brave, honorable, exceptional real-life hero.