Move on over, Captain Jack. There’s a new king of the seas!
Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) is your everyday boat captain. He’s a family man, he knows what’s right with the world, what isn’t, he’s strict, he’s determined, he doesn’t quite play-well with others, but he’s cautious to a certain point. However, the cautious-nature that makes him who he is may help him out this time when four Somalian armed-pirates jump aboard his ship and take hostages, demanding money. Phillips is more than able to oblige, but he realizes that these four are some insanely dangerous people you do not want to mess with, especially when they have AK-47s pointed directly at his face. But Phillips doesn’t allow for that to get in his way too much and finds the solution to their problems by giving them all of the money he has in his vault; all $3,000 of it. Obviously, as you could expect, the pirates know that they can’t go back with that chump-change and needed a bigger bang for their buck. So, like any normal-thinking human-being anchoring a hostage-situation, they decide to kidnap Phillips and put his life on the line so that they can get more money through ransom. They don’t realize though, it ain’t that easy when you’re working the U.S. army, baby! And Richard Phillips too, but this isn’t even his story, right?
While many out there (myself included) have been a bit skeptical of Greengrass’ career and how long his “frantic, shaky-cam” gimmick would run dry, the man always finds a way to keep us coming back for more. More for him, more for the material he chooses to adapt, and best of all, more for the disastrous, real-life situations he chooses to display and re-create, if you will. The man did it with United 93, one of the most dreadful, yet, powerful pieces of cinema about 9/11 you’ll ever see, and hell, despite the story not being as known to me as that deadly tragedy was, he does the same thing again with Captain Phillips, the true tale of a man who threw himself into a deadly situation and somehow, someway, came out by the skin of his teeth.
That’s not a spoiler, by the way. So please, please do not get all up in my grill, because in all honesty, it doesn’t matter. Knowing the outcome beforehand or not knowing won’t make a single lick of a difference because Greengrass, using any skill he has in his tool-belt without over-doing it, makes this movie so freakin’ tense, so sweaty, so gripping, and so suspenseful, that you may even, at one point, wonder just what the hell is going to happen. So many movies that are based on real-life events try so hard to make you feel that tense in the most manipulative ways possible, but not this one. Greengrass knows better and believe it or not, seems like he’s learned from his mistakes and dials-down a lot of his gimmicks.
No loud, swelling music trying to make you feel a certain way; none of the infamous “crack-cam”; no fake emotions trying to make you see Phillips story from all sorts of perspectives; and thankfully, not a single piece of forced-patriotism thrown onto us, as if Greengrass wants us to be chanting, “U.S.A.!!! U.S.A.!!!”, by the end of it. And even if that was the case, it probably still would have worked because he finds a way to make you gain hope in anybody who’s just trying to survive this situation and save Phillips life if they can. Even Phillips himself who, despite being played by everybody’s favorite actor, doesn’t really come off as the nicest guy in the world, yet you still care for him.
And you can totally credit that to Hanks’ utter-charm that has him win over anybody he meets, in real-life or in the movies, but you can also credit that to Greengrass for giving us a guy who feels real, doesn’t feel like the happiest/most pleasant person on the face planet, and may even be a bit of a dick. Yet, you still care for him and realize that every step he makes, good or bad, may be a step he takes to his grave or to his warm, cozy bed at home. Either way, he’s going to get out of this situation one way or another, and he will stop at nothing to make sure he comes out of this alive. And if not, well then, he’ll make sure he’s the only one because it’s his ship, his decisions, and his life that he’s throwing out on the line. Nobody else’s and if that doesn’t make him a natural-born hero, then I don’t know what the hell does!
But, like I was saying about Tom Hanks, you know you love the guy in almost anything he shows up in (Larry Crowne included) because lord knows I do. Problem is, the man hasn’t really been showing much of his talent lately. Sure, he’s taken some interesting projects here and there, but nothing to the point of where I was reminded why this man is usually regarded as one of the best working today, best of all time, and why the hell he won two Oscars, back-to-back! Needless to say, I was a bit worried seeing him here as Richard Phillips as it seemed like the type of role that would have had him talking all of the time, being loud, trying to be charming, and not allowing me, not for a single second, to get past the fact that it was Tom Hanks playing a role.
Instead, Hanks totally showed me up, and I’m glad he did so. Not only did he have me believe that he was this frightened, desperate man in this very tense hostage-situation, but he also had me believe that he could get out of it alive if he just used his smarts and brains a bit. Granted, he’s not the nicest guy in the world, like I said before, and we don’t get to know too much about his background other than that he loves his wife, his kids, and is scared that the times are changin’. But that small crap doesn’t matter because Hanks gives one of his best performances in the past decade or so and it gives me more and more faith in him as his career continues to chive on.
As for those “Oscar whispers” he’s getting, he totally deserves all of them and should get a nomination, no matter what. Hanks was great throughout the whole movie by the way he was able to still have us care for him without using his insane-amounts of charm, but nothing measures up to the last 5 minutes of the film, and what he does in front of the camera. You’ll be hearing a lot of people talk about these final moments for quite some time, and with good reason: They’re so emotional, so effective, and so inspiring, that you’ll be absolutely astonished how Greengrass and Hanks were able to come together and make it work so damn well, and in such a realistic, honest matter as well. Just watch these final minutes and you’ll see what I mean. One of the best, most memorable scenes of the year that I’ll most likely be remembering for years to come.
As for the rest of the cast, with the exception of a 5-minute role from Catherine Keener as Phillips loving, but barely seen wife, it’s character-actor central, with the occasional unknown thrown in for good measure. Everybody in this cast is good, but the one that really caught me off-guard was newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of these Somalian pirates, and the one that takes charge early on. The one aspect behind this movie that could have really tore it down was how completely one-sided its view-point could have come off as being, and while Greengrass sure as hell doesn’t support these pirates actions, he still shows them as human-beings doing something so inhumane and so evil like threatening somebody’s life, but also giving them reasons for why it is that they are doing so. Greengrass never tries to make us feel bad for them to the point of where it’s near-Liberalism, but he does hold his hand out to them a bit more than usual, more for Abdi who you feel the worst for, because you know he’s not a bad guy, he just does bad things due to outside influence. Still, they were Somalian pirates that tried to kill a man for money. That immoral behavior should never be forgiven, no matter who commits it.
Consensus: The story is one we may all know, yet, Captain Phillips is still one of the most compelling, most tense thrillers of the whole year with plenty of food-for-thought and a Tom Hanks performance that anchors the material the whole through; keeping it humane, grounded, and placed in a sense of reality, as if we are really seeing this happen in front of our faces, the way it’s meant to be seen and understood.
9 / 10 = Full Price!!