Captain Phillips (2013)

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Tom Hanks stars as Captain Richard Phillips in this dramatisation of a very recent event that many will have caught on the news a few years ago. Pirates boarded a ship, were kept away from anything of real importance by the crew, and eventually headed off in a lifeboat, keeping Captain Phillips as their captive. It was a very tense situation, to put it mildly, and I’m sure that everyone involved was quite traumatised.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to take away that impression. There are some impressive final moments in the film, but a lot of scenes feature the characters keeping the kind of stiff upper lip that’s normally associated with us Brits during wartime.

Based on the book by Richard Phillips and Stephen Talty, Billy Ray has created a very simple script. Oh yes, we get to see the pirates and find out a bit about their motivation (ummmm . . . . . . . . . well, it’s money, unsurprisingly), but there’s no shading given to any of the crew members or, as has become a bone of contention for many, the captain himself.

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That simplicity continues with the direction from Greengrass, who tricks viewers at the start of the movie by showing some interesting events in the lead up to the main incident, but then allows everything to be loaded on to the Hollywood fast track to bland, inoffensive entertainment full of moments that never feel truthful, even if they ARE.

The acting is good from all involved. Hanks is as solid as he usually is, but the best performance comes from Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the pirate team. Abdi is often calmer than the men working for him, but he always makes it clear that he means business. Barkhad Abdirahman is also very good as the hot-headed pirate often challenging the decisions made by Muse. Michael Chernus and Chris Mulkey do well as two of the crew members (there are many others, but it’s Chernus and Mulkey who are given just enough to do to stand out from the crowd), and Catherine Keener has a small role as the loving wife that Captain Phillips hopes to get back to.

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Yet, despite the flaws in writing and direction, Captain Phillips is not a bad film. It does tell a good, tense story, albeit one that feels like a by-the-numbers disaster movie, for example, as opposed to an account of real events, the cast all do their best with what they’re given, and there are one or two stand-out moments. But it’s not one I will be rushing to rewatch any time soon.

DIRECTOR: PAUL GREENGRASS
WRITER: BILLY RAY (BASED UPON A BOOK BY RICHARD PHILLIPS AND STEPHAN TALTY)
STARS: TOM HANKS, BARKHAD ABDI, BARKHAD ABDIRAHMAN, FAYSAL AHMED, MICHAEL CHERNUS, CHRIS MULKEY, CATHERINE KEENER
RUNTIME: 134 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

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