Friday, October 11, 2013

Don't Mess with the Navy Seals: Captain Phillips


United 93 on a ship but with shakier camerawork.


While not as gripping as United 93, director Paul Greengrass has created another depiction of a real-life crisis that has the tone and immediacy of documentary-style realism. Greengrass establishes the tension from the beginning and maintains it for nearly the whole length of the film - with a lapse in its pacing when the story floats a little aimlessly in the scenes in the bobbing lifeboat containing Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) and the pirates. All in all, this is a very good story of one man's endurance in the face of modern-day piracy on the high seas.

The film's big drawback is the shaky camera style which seems ridiculously shaky at times. When the film introduces the pirates on a beach in Somalia, the camera shifts and shakes so much it's all a blur. Later, during the hijacking sequence, the camera dances around so much you have a hard time distinguishing between the four Somali pirates. Sometimes, too, the shaky camera style diminishes the tension because it's hard to register characters' expressions.


Tom Hanks is quite good as Captain Phillips, the ordinary merchant marine captain who is thrust into an extraordinary situation. Also good is Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the four-man Somali pirate crew that uses a small motor-powered boat to raid a huge cargo ship.



When there seems to be no hope for Captain Richard Phillips because he is being held hostage by armed pirates in an enclosed lifeboat heading for the Somali coast, the Navy Seals appear on the scene and we know from films like Zero Dark Thirty that the pirates don't have a chance.

The film balances nicely between showing the pirates as ruthless cutthroats while at the same time showing them as victims of a country that has been torn by famine and civil war and is at the mercy of warlords. There is no hope in Muse's life, and we get the sense that he is forced against his will to hijack freighters, but the film doesn't go far enough to show what his other motivations might include.

Then, as I said, the Navy Seals step in, and I found my focus straying from the sympathetic Muse, straying too from the kidnapped Captain Phillips, as I became fascinated by how Navy Seals sharpshooters set their sights on the heads of three pirates and prepare to fire each A SINGLE SHOT THROUGH THE WINDOWS OF AN ENCLOSED LIFEBOAT ROCKING BACK AND FORTH IN THE SEA! AND THEY DO IT! For me, this is the film's most memorable moment. Greengrass doesn't seem to glorify the Navy Seals, but their feat of arms certainly overshadows many of the tense moments involving the titular Captain Phillips.


This is a good movie, but the shakiness of the camerawork keeps me from running out to see it again.

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