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Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

The combination of a powerful real-life story and a terrific
performance by Tom Hanks, under the direction of Paul Greengrass, would seem to
make Captain Phillips a can’t-miss
opportunity. That it winds up being a near-miss instead is something of a
letdown, despite the film’s many attributes. Director Greengrass is a master at
recreating contemporary, crisis-ridden events in such films as United 93 and the unbeatable Bloody Sunday. In dramatizing the
abduction of a U.S. cargo freighter Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in 2009,
however, he and screenwriter Billy Ray have failed to distill the details to
their essence. After a tremendous buildup, the movie’s climax drowns us in
minutiae when all we want is a resolution. (It may seem even draggier because we
already know how the story ends.)  

Hanks does a fine job, as usual, playing a career seaman who
treats his latest voyage as just another assignment. He is smart enough to
recognize that he and his men are sailing through treacherous waters and takes
every reasonable precaution, including running his crew through a practice
drill. Those efforts prove to be in vain, all the more so when it turns out
that the pirates who board his vessel are hotheads with automatic weapons, not
movie-style villains who spout clever dialogue. The nonprofessionals who play
the Somalis (including Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and
Mahat M. Ali) are remarkably believable—and frightening.

I presume the book that provided this movie’s source material
(A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy
SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea
by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty)
answers some lingering questions about how the ship remained so vulnerable and
why there weren’t more safeguards in place when it entered these volatile

Aside from that, Greengrass and cinematographer Barry
Ackroyd offer us a vivid, insider’s look at life at sea and how the crew of
twenty did their best to elude their would-be captors. One can’t fault them for
creating a realistic environment or documenting the U.S. Navy’s rescue
operation. But one can chide them for letting their absorption in specifics
override their dramatic instincts. Captain
winds up being a pretty good docudrama that bogs down just when it
ought to soar.

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