Captain Phillips3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
It would be quite an experience to meet Captain Phillips as a person, at least that’s what the movie “Captain Phillips” led me to believe. He is portrayed in a way that is, simply put, human. And even if he’s not a true hero, the script convinced me of that. He doesn’t set out to save the world, let alone his ship, but he also probably doesn’t know that saving his ship is something he’s more likely to do naturally. If there were a nicer, more succinct description, it would be a few early clips of Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks). Even before he experiences actual danger, his natural fear leads him to go beyond the basic rules of running a ship. He’s prepared for the worst, and he may be the only one on board who is. I doubt there is much worse than what occurs: the crew has barely prepared for the drill they go through when a gang of Somali pirates is on board and acts out their cruelty.
“Captain Phillips” takes the approach we last saw in director Paul Greengrass’ 9/11 docudrama (“United 93”). That was seven years ago, and since then it has only improved in its ability to show weakness and fear from both sides. Hanks tries to remain calm the whole time, as do the pirates. We actually feel the misery of the Somalis and see parts of the story through their eyes. Once again, I’m surprised there hasn’t been some controversy over Greengrass’ unreserved sympathy for the antagonists. (I’m glad about that, too.) The story is seen mostly from Captain Phillips’ perspective, as you might imagine. Where we can sympathize in moderation with the Somalis, we long for cathartic relief in Hanks’ character.
The film holds together as an emotional, intense docudrama. The film is perhaps as authentic as movies will ever portray real life. That’s partly due to the technical department. If you could ever hear a pin drop, it’s not because of the dead silence, but because you can hear the ship’s floor creaking ever so softly. The use of lighting is rarely wrong, maybe even everything was naturally lit. It’s an unusual and admirable choice, but if it was effective in “The Fugitive,” it was groundbreaking in “Captain Phillips.“
The cast is also almost entirely unheard of. There is one exception, of course: among the others is Tom Hanks. He looks nothing like the real Phillips, but he makes him seem real with his sensitive, patient transformation. There’s nothing here that shows the Tom Hanks we know, the actor worth millions of dollars in scientific notation. You’d find completely different characters in everything he’s done, even in his best films. Just take a look at the ’90s. “Philadelphia?” Nope. “Forrest Gump,” not at all. As for his character in “Saving Private Ryan,” there’s a fascinating polar opposite to the title character in “Captain Phillips.” Here we have a character so selfless that in his compassion for others he almost forgets that he himself exists. Although his well-being is threatened throughout the film, the only thing he ever does for his own sake is ask for water, near the climax.
“Captain Phillips” portrays and is a remarkable achievement. The screenplay is Oscar-worthy. It’s as if it was written by someone who suffered through the situation Phillips experienced, rather than someone who adapted Phillips’ book about the situation. Screenwriter Billy Ray throws us into a state where one can only hope the danger ends. The film is a completely unpredictable nail-biter. To keep it that way, if you don’t already know the details of the events that occur in this film, I urge you not to research them.