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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Captain Phillips

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Produced by: Michael De Luca
Dana Brunetti
Scott Rudin

Screenplay by: Billy Ray

Based on: A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea 
by Richard Phillips

Starring: Tom Hanks
Barkhad Abdi
Barkhad Abdirahman
Faysal Ahmed
Mahat M. Ali
Michael Chemus
David Warshofsky
Corey Johnson
Chris Mulkey
Catherine Keener

Music by: Henry Jackman

Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd

Editing by: Christopher Rouse

Studio(s): Michael De Luca Productions
Scott Rudin Productions
Trigger Street Productions

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Release date(s): October 11, 2013 (United States)
October 16, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 134 minutes

Country: United States

Language(s): English

Production budget: $55 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $145, 994, 044

Booyakasha, it's me again with one of my perfunctory (and completely lacking in originality) introductions to the review. I am working at an article on Dario Argento and though I said I'd do one on Lucio Fulci's Gates Of Hell trilogy, I'm gonna put that one off until I see some more of his films. It's always been a view of mine that you can't have an opinion on a director until you see at least three of their films, and that you can't deliver any form of expert critique until you see at least five (although in the case of someone like Bela Tarr or Terrence Malick, rules are made to be broken). Having seen the Gates Of Hell movies (City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond, The House By The Cemetery) and New York Ripper, I'm one shy of my self-imposed rules of expert opines, so I'll abide by my own confines (terrible rhymes, I know). In other, more contemporary movie news, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity has been making waves as arguably the most talked about and acclaimed movie of 2013, so, expecting a look in at that one and others, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is the action thriller picture, Captain Phillips. Another of this year's sure-fire Oscar contenders (especially in the wake of last year's Best Picture winning Argo being a thriller), it's directed by Paul Greengrass, a director who I admire very much (and this being the sixth movie of his I've seen, according to my rules I know a thing or two about him). Having made his bones on British television, his breakout movie as a director was the powerful 2002 drama Bloody Sunday, which I consider (along with Alan Clarke's Elephant) to be one of the two best films made about Northern Ireland. After that, he took over Doug Liman's directorial chair on the latter two Jason Bourne films, arguably redefining the contemporary action movie, and in between both he made the harrowing United 93, taking his realist/cinema verite style to it's ne plus ultra aboard the confined space of one of the planes hijacked during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Three years ago, he re-united with Bourne collaborator Matt Damon on Green Zone, a troubled yet incredibly gutsy Iraq war political thriller. I know this isn't an article on Greengrass, but when I know the history in the artistry of those behind the film, I like to give the contextual aspect to the review a little more oomph! Anywho, Captain Phillips stars Tom Hanks in the title role, who, although you could hardly say is in the middle of resurgence akin to Robert Downey Jr. or Mickey Rourke a number of years ago, has been busier in the past few years, with Larry Crowne (which he also wrote and directed), Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, Cloud Altas and Saving Mr. Banks all under his belt. Not forgetting, of course, that Hanks is one of the greatest film actors of the past twenty-five years, with Big, Turner & Hooch (a personal favourite), Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, the Toy Story trilogy, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Cast Away, Road To Perdition and The Terminal ("Viktor Navorski from Krakozhia") all the better for benefitting from his immeasurable talents. So, yeah, those two factors should get the context out of the way, 'kay? Good, short synopsis: Tom Hanks' Captain Phillips is a merchant mariner who takes command of the MV Maersk Alabama at the port of Oman, with order to sail through the Gulf of Aden to Mombasa. During the process of this venture, the ship is hijacked in the Indian Ocean at the hands of Somalian pirates, led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi). That's all you need know, and anything more would be giving to much away, so there!

To start with the good, Tom Hanks is simply terrific in the lead role. He has always had something of this everyman charm to him, that is more or less a given, but he is at exactly the right age and the right time of his career to be playing such a part. Although he's never been a hulking leading man, he's not the thirty-year-old man-child of Big, and as such Hanks' age and awareness of the things that come with that process give Phillips a legitimate and believable vulnerability. Also, his way with words ensure that Billy Ray's script becomes lively and engaging, and furthermore, as his character has to go through a lot of pain, both psychological and physical, his performance, full of strength and resilience, mirrors the trials and tribulations of Richard Phillips. However, not to take away from Hanks (without whom the movie would not have succeeded), I feel that the real standout performance is that of Barkhad Abdi, who plays lead pirate Muse. Abdi's character could have been written by another person to be a typically nefarious villain trope, but the fact is is that Abdi (and Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali) is given a strong part, takes the ball and goes with it. Physically, his "Skinny" look is not that of a typical villain, but he has an extraordinary range of facial expressions, subtly suggesting that beneath his relatively unremarkable frame, is a fire-breathing dragon, and the way he uses his eyes tell you that this is the face of rage fuelled by years of poverty, oppression and exploitation, that there is a dangerous combustable element to Muse. Like Hanks, he has a real way with words, flowing seamlessly between Somali and English, having a great sense of timing and diction. Furthermore, not only is he is intimidating, Abdi has the gall (in a good way) to make this villain a character we can sympathise with who, unlike his comrades, listens to reason in a measured way and gets across the nature of the situation to the audience that although it could be made personal, the hijacking is strictly business. With a role of this complexity, I would certainly hope that Abdi's in line for Oscar nomination, as he's a front-runner in my books at the annual Best And Worst Of The Year. Also to be praised about Captain Phillips is the technical direction and atmosphere created by the conjunction of the cinematography and editing. Tried-and-tested Greengrass collaborators Barry Ackroyd and Christopher Rouse are a winning formula responsible for some of the stylistic traits involved with the director. Ackroyd's hand-held cinematography firmly entrenches the film in a prescient reality. Also, we are inside the intimate space of the characters, and thus we feel involved in the unfolding drama. As regards to editing, Rouse, whose frenetic cutting intensifies the film's atmosphere, is another key part to this story. His work makes it feel almost as though what we see the viewfinder is from that of a character, POV-esque in a very subtle way. The work by these Ackroyd and Rouse on Greengrass' Jason Bourne movies has been lifted horribly by numerous people in the film industry, but it has rarely been legitimately replicated, and their craftsmanship is once again of a high standard. Finally, although I'm sure you've gathered I'm a Paul Greengrass guy, I feel that this is another one of those situations where he has outdone himself. Somehow, someway, he's able to ply his craft to a variety of different stories, using it appropriately to serve the project and not the other way around. Captain Phillips is, for all intents and purposes, another recognisably appropriate addition to Greengrass' back catalogue, but also stands on it's own two feet as a strong and intense thriller.

Now, while I'm sure you gathered that I had a lot of time for and liked Captain Phillips very much, there is a central problem which ensures that, while it is a great film, it does not ascend to the status of a masterpiece. The script is written by Billy Ray, a scribe who has a real understanding of character development and interaction, something which he has shown not just in his screenwriting but also as a director with the overlooked pictures Shattered Glass and Breach. However, his screenplay, while strong in many regards, I feel is neglectful of developing a larger socio-political discourse than could have been achieved. This is an even larger problem than it would have been in other films, as the initial set-up of the Somalian case and the characters is unusually three-dimensional, so it's a shame that this aspect is left by the wayside. In this regard, it bears comparison to Green Zone. What Brian Helgeland did with that film was give it an excellent and bold socio-political discourse but neglected the storytelling fundamentals, ensuring that the central structure itself was rather bland. Here, it's the other way round, although the results are a lot more consistent and not as spectacularly opposed to one another. 

Getting past that problem (and it is one; just because it exists outside the boundaries of traditional technicalities of film/film criticism doesn't mean the point isn't valid), Captain Phillips is still a great movie. The performances from Tom Hanks and especially Barkhad Abdi were excellent, with Billy Ray's understand of character's and the interplay of dialogue coming to the fore, giving a three-dimensionality to these people. Also, the winning formula of Barry Ackroyd and Christopher Rouse in their respective roles as cinematographer and editor ply their craft appropriately to the project, and Paul Greengrass is as ever interesting and intelligent filmmaker, who crafts a strong and intense thriller that stands well on it's own two feet. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bored ("I'm the chairman of the board. I'm a lengthy monologue, I'm living like a dog...")

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