Title: Captain Phillips
Any Volleyball Cameos? How dare you diminish the memory of a loyal piece of sporting equipment?
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four bottles of Captain Morgan out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Captain of hijacked container ship defeats army of Somali pirates using nothing but his wits and lethal adamantium claws. Or maybe not, I kind of zoned out toward the end.
Tagline: "Out here survival is everything."
Better Tagline: "Ooh, Navy SEALS!"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: On a voyage around the Horn of Africa, the American flagged container ship Maersk Alabama is hijacked by four Somali pirates who, ultimately thwarted in their attempts to take the ship, take captain Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) aboard the Alabama's lifeboat and attempt to reach Somalia before the awesome power of the U.S. Navy can be brought to bear.
"Critical" Analysis: Just to get it out of the way, Captain Phillips is a very good movie. Tension permeates the entire film and builds to an almost unbearable pitch in the final act, when the inexorable might of the Navy closes around the depressingly naïve pirates. Hanks is solid, newcomer Barkhad Abdi gives a surprisingly nuanced performance as Muse, the leader of the pirates, and the production values across the board are top notch.
It's also some of the most naked propaganda you'll see this side of Party Posse's "Join the Navy" from The Simpsons
Greengrass cheats, in a way, knowing how events turn out (look it up if you must, it was in all the papers). And while he still keeps the pressure going throughout, many of his shots could have come straight out of a Michael Bay movie (Bay being Hollywood's other notable military fetishist): the SEALS striding purposefully toward their sniper perch, the diminutive lifeboat dwarfed by the three massive Navy vessels, the American flag waving defiantly. Meanwhile, the bridge and exterior shots of the Bainbridge could be recycled for the next "America's Navy" commercial.
Perhaps this is merely to enforce the juxtaposition between the ruthlessly efficient Americans and the ragtag Somalis, who live in beach shacks and are forced to conduct raids, in some cases, with no shoes. It ties in with Phillips' opening conversation with his wife about how the "world is changing" and discussions of how there are "50 guys for every job," a statement rendered ruefully significant when the camera switches to the Somali camp and emaciated young men clamor for a position on the boats.
Greengrass has become quite adept at dramatizing real life events and presenting them in such a way that we almost forget that we already know the ending. In United 93, the suspense was heightened by knowing that the passengers' heroics would be for naught, and yet some part of us hoped the movie was taking place in an alternate universe where control was wrested from the hijackers in the nick of time.
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In Captain Phillips, however, Greengrass inexplicably veers away from portraying the pirates in an almost thoughtful light (poverty stricken in a country that's basically Bartertown without the nuclear fallout, these men are left little choice of vocation by the local warlords) to turning them into caricatures. For example, a friend of mine at the screening I attempted compared the most aggressive of the pirate foursome to Buggin' Out, Giancarlo Esposito's character from Do the Right Thing.
And let's not even get into how Greengrass has apparently taken the seizure-cam mantel from Tony Scott. I get that 99 percent of the movie takes place on boats, but theaters showing this might want to hand out airsick bags.
In short, Captain Phillips is a taut, often gripping film that's also as "America, Fuck Yeah!" as a Fox News promo. That the two so easily coexist says more about the state of Hollywood - and the world - than I really like to think about.
Captain Phillips is in theaters today. Arrrrrr.