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11/2/13

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS - REVIEW


Having not seen a Tom Hanks film that wasn't a Toy Story sequel since Angels & Demons (yes, I missed Cloud Atlas, I know), I went into Captain Phillips (the movie, that is...) looking forward to see the actor back in action.

Besides, the solid trailer promised a tense sea-set thriller.

Based on a true story, the film follows Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) as he is tasked with taking a cargo ship through the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, Somali pirates show up with the intent of hijacking the ship. After several attempts at keeping them from entering the ship and taking hostages, they do finally come aboard and Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the leader, uses Phillips to try and find the rest of the crew. That doesn't go quite according to plan so the pirates end up taking Phillips hostage on a lifeboat instead. After a low-key opening in which we see Phillips and his wife (played by Catherine Keener) wake up early in the morning and drive to the airport, we are shown how the Somali pirates ended up being picked for that particular job. It's an interesting contrast between two very different worlds and suggests that the film will be just as much about the titular captain as it will be about those taking him hostage. The first half of the film delivers exactly the amount of tension the trailer promised and Hanks gives a brilliant, convincing performance throughout. It's a stressful but gripping watch and Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass makes the most of his ability to keep the audience glued to their seats while a character goes through hell.

Then, Captain Phillips becomes a very different film.

Hanks' Phillips gets dragged into a lifeboat and is taken away by the Somali pirates as we are left to wonder what will become of him. Now, unless you know what happened in real life, you'll certainly be expecting a much better ending than the one this movie gives you but it's not like they could have just made up any old thing when dealing with a recent, real event. The pace of the film slows down radically as we wait for something to happen and when it does, it's pretty anti-climactic. The way this whole thing is resolved may be a brilliant ad for the US Navy Seals involved but it feels much too Hollywood. It doesn't help that there are inaccuracies which are ignored and could have made the ending a bit more interesting and believable. The integrity of those off to save Phillips is never questioned and the film never explores the potentially darker aspects of this whole operation or follows up on the whole pirates thing. We're left to wait for a meaningful resolution and all we get is a pro-Navy version of what happened, nothing more. It's a shame since, before that, Captain Phillips was not only a tense, very well made thriller but one with the potential to be something somewhat more important.

Overall, despite a slightly disappointing third act and an overlong second half, I did enjoy the movie. Captain Phillips boasts some genuinely suspenseful moments and a fine lead performance from Hanks. It's not quite the masterpiece some critics have been raving about but it's a solid flick nonetheless.

Good, if overrated.

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