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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 18 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 42
Say Aye to Captain Phillips - Gripping true-life piracy tale is a heroic call to action
Arts & Entertainment
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Say Aye to Captain Phillips - Gripping true-life piracy tale is a heroic call to action

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Opens October 11


Calling Captain Phillips the best procedural to hit theater screens since last years Zero Dark Thirty isnt hyperbole. While Im not sure Id stick director Paul Greengrass latest on the same instantly classic plateau as Kathryn Bigelows stunner about the hunt for Osama bin Laden - and Im not even certain Id mention it in the same breath with the filmmakers own 9/11 masterpiece, United 93 - none of that changes the fact this Somali pirate marvel is one of 2013s best motion pictures. Featuring performances by Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi deserving of award recognition, showcasing kinetic filmmaking chops that electrify, devastate, and enthrall at every step, this based-on-fact thriller is terrific, everything building to a magnificent conclusion that came close to stopping my heart cold.

Richard Phillips (Hanks) is the captain of the container cargo shipping vessel Maersk Alabama. He knows how dangerous the route along the Somali coast is, making sure his entire crew is on point, whether they comprehend the situation themselves or think hes being a bit overcautious.

But the captains fears prove well-placed when the Maersk is attacked by pirates. Led by the lithe, calmly menacing Muse (Abdi), they are excited about the payday involved if they can capture the ships crew and cargo. But Phillips manages to be one step ahead of them at every turn, handicapping their successful takeover with subtle leadership and clinical exactitude. Yet when push comes to shove he only sees one way to ensure his entire crew survives the ordeal - allow Muse and his men to take him captive, leaving the Maersk in a small emergency vessel and hope the U.S. military comes to his aid before they reach Somali shores.

Following closely Phillips memoir of the 2009 event (co-written by Stephan Talty), Billy Rays (The Hunger Games; Breach) ambitious script sports vice-like emotional controls allowing inherent tension of the story to come to light with gradual, unfathomable subtlety, putting the viewer in a state of constant, palpable worry. Greengrass keeps the focus directly where it needs to be, most notably on the relationship between Phillips and Muse, only shifting perspectives when the Navy, and subsequently the SEALs, arrive on the scene and attempt to wrest control of the situation from the pirates.

TOMS TERRIFIC
None of which would matter if the two actors at the heart of all this werent up to the challenge. Hanks hasnt dug this far into a character in ages, probably since Saving Private Ryan, manufacturing a controlled, self-contained portrait of grace under increasing pressure that never boils over as it could in the hands of a lesser performer. The two-time Academy Award winner doesnt allow himself to overly emote until the situation itself demands it, the breadth of emotions he travels through coming from a place of extreme authentic trauma and chaos he somehow, some way, makes immediate and relatable.

Abdi is his doppelgänger. The young actor - this is his first major credit - takes what could have been a stereotypical monster and makes him human, almost pitiable, his actions and his choices risible yet the consequences to both he and his men somehow remain tragic and heartbreaking. Abdis sly, serpentine presence is the films most amazing asset, the way he juxtaposes little insights into his own backstory even with events spiraling out of control in regards to his abduction of Phillips shockingly profound.

The technical aspects are all as faultless as you might expect them to be, veteran cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker) shooting things with a suitable, documentary-like verisimilitude that puts the viewer directly into the middle of the action. Same goes for Christopher Rouses (The Bourne Ultimatum) editing, his layering of images and sequences as good as it gets. The rest of these aspects are as top-of-the-line as any of these cinematic facets could ever hope to be, all elements working in exquisite tandem with everything else allowing the core emotionalism at the heart of the story to shine through in every frame.

Greengrass directs with his typical consummate skill, controlling the action like a master composer making sure no instrument is out of tune or a single note could be construed as sour. His confidence assembling all of this together is, if not unexpected, still sensational, the man taking what could have been an inspiring, if not altogether unfamiliar, real-life tale of heroism and making it instead something universally accessible and cathartic all who view it could potentially learn something from. Captain Phillips doesnt present new ideas so much as it puts a mirror to the best and the worst of our inner natures, allowing us to make of that glimpse what we will - no more, and certainly no less.

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Say Aye to Captain Phillips - Gripping true-life piracy tale is a heroic call to action
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