Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips is the real life story of the US containership Maersk Alabama, captained by Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years. The hijackers are a small band of Somali pirates led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who sought out to initially steal some basic supplies and cash. However due to the consequences of their hijack, these pirates decide to abduct Captain Phillips onto a small escape vessel in the hopes of exchanging him to the US government for ransom.

The focus of this movie isn’t on Richard Phillips’ personal life, rather it is on his reactionary behavior in the face of danger and chaos. Being abducted is a terrifying feeling, especially if one is put in an isolated location such as the open seas. Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips embodies a state of panic when he is abducted, but attempts to remain strategic and calm on the surface. Tom Hanks never fails to astonish audiences on the emotional depths he can reach with his characters. In this role in particular, he achieves technical mastery in his performance despite being mostly muted and reactionary after being abducted. The soundtrack, scored by Henry Jackson, complements this notion of chaos without being too disruptive.  The score “paints a picture in sound”. It adds a hidden layer of color and texture to the film without taking the center stage or utilizing any sort of cultural or geographical themes. This was the right choice to make because Captain Phillips is about presenting  real life events in an objective and journalistic way.

Barkhad Abdi also delivers a stunning performance, especially given the fact that he had no prior acting experience. Even though he is portrayed as the antagonist to Phillips, Paul Greengrass (the director) doesn’t strip him or the other pirates of their dignity. We may disagree on their actions, but we are given sufficient reasons to understand why these pirates are behaving the way they are. Claustrophobia is a another important sensation that this movie heavily portrays through the way it is shot. Much of Captain Phillips takes place inside a tiny escape vessel containing five passengers. The way Greengrass sways his camera shoots close-ups of these passengers inside this vessel elucidates a feel of claustrophobia: you are in this vessel to and want to get out as quickly as possible.

However on the flip side, I was not always a fan of Greengrass’s excessive use of shaky cam. In some instances it worked because it stimulated a feeling of sea sickness, especially when it was utilized in a claustrophobic setting such as the escape vessel. However whenever characters were stationary on a larger ship or on land, this effect caused a major disturbance to my viewing pleasure. I also didn’t buy the fact that the small escape vessel used in the majority of the film to keep Phillips in refuge had no food or water. A lot of the conflict we see on this tiny vessel between the pirates and Phillips is because it is assumed that this vessel has no essential supplies. The characters collide and argue with each other because they want to reach their destination as quick as possible (as there is no food or water to survive on).

Apart from these two critiques I really liked this movie. It is an inspirational story of survival and negotiation, which is spearheaded by the great Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips and support well by Barkhad Abdi who makes a formidable antagonist with a layer of humanity. The soundtrack generates chaos without taking the foreground and the shaky camera at times works in the favor of this film by simulating a feeling of sea sickness. However I would have liked the movie to have paid greater attention to detail (see example above) in certain instances and not have abused its use of shaky cam, which in other instances caused major disturbances to my viewing pleasure.




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