Reviews continue to roll in for Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” following its New York Film Festival premiere. The breathless thriller stars Tom Hanks in the title role as a real-life cargo ship captain contending with Somali pirates. The positive if tempered reactions from early reviews have ratcheted up to glowing praise with this new batch of write-ups: the Telegraph calls Greengrass “at the top of his game” and Hanks’ performance “outstanding,” while the New York Daily News claims the film is “the most gripping based-on-fact film this year.”
In first reviews from early September, Variety wrote that it was a “kinetic docudrama that always impresses without ever connecting emotionally” in the same way as Greengrass’ previous films, and Indiewire claimed it does justice to the tense material — but still plays generally by the book.
The Wrap asserted that the Somali pirates are filmed more like zombies than humans, giving the proceedings a whiff of Rudyard Kipling.
The film hits theaters October 11. Check out the new trailer, after the jump.
Four years after it made headlines, the harrowing ordeal of
commercial shipping captain Richard Phillips gets the bigscreen treatment care
of verite specialist Paul Greengrass in “Captain Phillips.” The result is a
kinetic docudrama that always impresses without ever connecting emotionally in
quite the same way as the helmer’s prior “Bloody Sunday” and “United 93,” with
which “Phillips” forms a loose trilogy of average Joes and Janes caught in the
throes of politically motivated violence. Setting sail with an opening-night
berth at the New York Film Festival (where another seafaring epic, “Life of
Pi,” launched last year), this impeccably well-made, gripping but grim survival
tale should spark a flurry of awards buzz for star Tom Hanks and powerful
Somali newcomer Barkhad Abdi, but may prove too grueling to make major waves
with Academy voters or the multiplex crowd.
It’s hard to imagine “Captain Phillips” in the
hands of any other filmmaker — and “Captain Phillips” in the hands
of Greengrass looks exactly like anyone familiar with his work would expect. It
does justice to the material even while playing too conscientiously by the
book. For better or worse, Greengrass’ virtuous approach is a thinkpiece on
imperialism that’s been smuggled into commercial escapism. “I know how to
handle America,” the head kidnapper asserts. The outcome, it seems,
suggests that America feels the same way about him.
From “Gravity” to “All Is Lost” and “12 Years A Slave,” ’tis the
season for survival stories and another good one joins this classy club with
Captain Phillips, a pulsating account of the kidnapping of the captain of an American
cargo ship by Somali pirates. Something of a companion piece for director Paul
Greengrass to his superb United 93, which was based on the real-life takeover
of one of the 9/11 aircraft, this immaculately made reconstruction of a chaotic
incident will have a much better time of it commercially than the earlier film
due to the presence of star Tom Hanks and because it has a happy ending.
But while Phillips comes off as resourceful, brave and
dedicated, his captors more often than not resemble zombies — Greengrass often
shoots them in a way that makes their eyes invisible, rendering them soulless.
The group’s leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) gets in a few lines about how his people
are victimized by larger nations (who have overfished the waters) and the local
warlords (who pocket whatever fortunes these pirates manage to pilfer), but he
mostly comes off as a mere monster, constantly chewing khat leaves and
Greengrass is obviously no colonist — his “Bloody Sunday”
was an impassioned tale of Northern Ireland bearing the brunt of British
violence — but his portrayal here of a noble white officer suffering at the
hands of insidious black pirates smacks of Rudyard Kipling.
British director Paul Greengrass has the rare gift of
working with action-thriller material and making something cohesive, layered
and complex from it. He did so superbly in United 93 and in his two Bourne
films: and with Captain Phillips, an account of Somali pirates boarding an
American cargo ship and kidnapping its captain, Greengrass remains at the top
of his game.
The film also features an outstanding performance by Tom
Hanks, who has been handed his strongest lead role in years: both he and
Greengrass should find themselves short-listed for awards in coming months.
The high drama that befell the freighter Maersk Alabama off
the Somali coast in April 2009, in which pirates boarded the ship and took its
captain hostage, has been given a highly-charged immediacy in a new thriller
from the director of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “United
Like those two thrillers — one an international spy caper,
the other a ripped-from-the-headlines docudrama about the 9/11 attacks — the
new Paul Greengrass film, “Captain Phillips,” uses fly-on-the-wall
camerawork, quicksilver editing, and extraordinary attention to detail to make
the events of the ship’s hijacking gripping and utterly believable.
But “Captain Phillips,” which premiered Friday at
the New York Film Festival (and which opens nationwide on October 11), would
not work nearly as well as it does were it not for the strong characters at its
center: Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), a veteran maritime sailor who is
all business on board; and Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a desperate Somali fisherman
who has turned to piracy.
“Captain Phillips” unfurls with an intensity that knocks the
wind out of you. Director Paul Greengrass’ film — which opens the 51st New York
Film Festival tonight before hitting theaters Oct. 11 — is the most gripping
based-on-fact film so far this year.
Proving once again that true stories with foregone
conclusions can be just as gripping as a conventional thriller, Paul
Greengrass’s tense, overwhelming Captain Phillips faithfully, fiercely recounts
the siege of the American container ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in
April of 2009. The titular captain was the visible hero of the ordeal, and of
course he’s played here by Tom Hanks, with a paunch and beard that makes him
only more relatable as our go-to American Everyman. The affected Boston accent
indicates some effort at capturing the real Phillips, but Hanks’s performance
is all about natural authority and courage, with a commitment and deep emotion
that reflects the film’s propulsive, relentless drive.
But politics aside, “Captain Phillips” is ultimately a
harrowing portrait of desperate men in desperate situations and just how far
they’ll go in their dire circumstances. It’s a breathlessly told movie; both
meticulous and frenetic, sweat-soaked and methodical. It will take hold and
won’t let you go, and it’s one of the most engaging movies of the year. [A]