c a p t a i n p h i l l i p s
18th October 2013
16th October 2013
Captain Phillips, a captain with 30 years experience whose book (A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea) the film is based upon, regularly moved loads on the Maersk Alabama across waters that were becoming notorious for pirate attack. Philiips had always thought if the pirates ever boarded it would all be over and well, we all know that is exactly what four desperate Somali pirates did just that. It was the first time pirates had ever boarded a ship of this size, and the result makes for a relentlessly emotional action packed ride in Paul Greengrass’ tale of two captains - Captain Phillips.
Putting aside a sedate first five or six minutes where we see working captain Richard Phillips wave goodbye to his wife (Catherine Keener), once we are on the ship this film does not let up. Philips goes about his safety checks, nervous about pirates, much to the chagrin of his crew who just want to drink coffee and talk about boys stuff (bet they love that depiction) but the sense of foreboding looms large. At the same time we see the other captain in our story, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) assembling his own, very different, crew on a beach in Somalia. Greengrass doesn’t spend a huge amount of time on the backstory of the Somali pirates but it’s more than enough to convey the message that they are young, desperate and under the power for warlords. They must bring home the paycheck and the raw desperation is what makes them the ticking time bomb that they are.
I adopted a variety of props to watch through (fingers, programme, hair, popcorn), squirmed in my seat and generally felt, well, uptight. In a good way. This is exciting stuff Greengrass is throwing at us here although if you are seasick you may come out of the screening a little worse for wear for these are choppy waters my friend.
There’s no doubt that Tom Hanks’ powerhouse performance is the beating heart of Captain Phillips and will likely result in a most deserved sixth Oscar nomination (and perhaps a third win). Greengrass has put him in some fine, if lesser known, company. From the crew to the hostage negotiator (a brilliant Max Martini) there are fine performances here although perhaps none as stand out as the four Somali pirates. Played by real life friends Abdhi, Barkhad Abdhirhman, Faysel Ahmed and Mahad Ali, casting director Francine Maisler went to Minneapolis, the biggest Somali community in America, and held a casting session where Greengrass says over 800 people turned up. Among them were these extraordinary four young men. Abdhi is the star but they are all excellent and I really hope they can find a place somewhere in the acting world. Greengrass kept the pirates and the other actors separate until the day of filming the attack so the Somalis would not get overwhelmed. I don’t know what takes were selected to use but the scene positively ripples with almost unwatchable tension so it obviously worked. Hanks has said by take three the Somalis were laughing about being in a scene with Forrest Gump so maybe the early takes were the keepers. The final scene where we see Phillips really emote what he has been through is absolutely one of the most raw and emotional pieces of acting I’ve seen. It is stunning and Hanks is breathtaking. The Marine health official checking Hanks over is not even an actor but a Marine (Greengrass employed Marines in other scenes too) and makes this all the more amazing. You’ll see when you watch it.
The film is stunningly shot by veteran British cinematographer Barry Ackroyd. Greengrass uses a variety of aerial, wide shots so we are not confined in the ship or the tiny lifeboat and the scenes where we see the huge expanse of the Navy resources surrounding one tiny lifeboat says a lot about how the situation was handled by the US. The edits are quick and we never feel the camera, Hanks said he never saw the camera, it’s skilfully handled. The crew spent something like 3 months on a ship out 10 miles from a port in Malta where most of them fared well but on one particularly choppy day where Greengrass was insisting on still trying to film, Hanks was thrown up on (!).
This is a less political film for Greengrass than some of his past offerings. He isn’t particularly making any big statements here about Somalia, or the way the US Navy handled it, he’s just presenting the facts (or his version of the facts anyway). We are invited to sympathise with the pirates to a certain extent but there is absolutely no doubt who the hero is. As it says on Captain Phillips book cover, the good guys won this time. If only it were that easy.
Check out the trailer here.