By Emily Morita
Feature films based on fact (loosely or otherwise) have never been more popular. Last year’s Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, and this year’s Fruitvale Station and Captain Phillips prove to be no exception. Captain Phillips debuted last Friday to rave reviews and a number two spot at the box office – not too shabby considering it was up against all-around-favorite Gravity.
Detailing the events of the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, Captain Richard Phillips, played by Tom Hanks, is the very picture of selflessness. He bravely wards off the Somali pirates while his crew hides and tries to tend to the pirates’ injuries when he is taken hostage. These are wonderfully paralleled with the Navy doctor’s brusque yet gentle way of attending to a shocked and traumatized Phillips once he’s rescued by the Navy SEALs.
Like most biopics, the outcome of the film isn’t much of a surprise, which makes the climax of the scenes all the more crucial. Phillips’ maneuvering skills allow the Maersk Alabama to evade the pirates when they first attacked, and his attempt to swim to safety were excellent narrative choices. Showing Phillips’ experience—and later, his desperation to escape, no matter how unlikely his chances of survival are—these scenes were just a few of the excellent writing, directing, and acting found in Captain Phillips.
A huge fan of Tom Hanks, I found that, in my completely unbiased opinion, Tom Hanks was amazing. You could feel his nervousness while the Somali were aboard the Masersk Alabama and could nearly see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to stay one step ahead of the pirates.
The most emotionally stirring scene comes when Phillips is blindfolded and tied, and believes he will die. The SEALs have already taken Somali leader Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi, who believes he will be meeting to discuss a ransom trade-off. The snipers are waiting to get the “green light” on the remaining three pirates. The SEALs’ dialogue bounces between having one and two snipers in the green; the pirates are loudly discussing what their next plan of action should be, as they believe Muse to be dead. Just above the chaos and noise, you can hear Phillips yelling his last goodbyes to his family, apologizing to his children, telling his wife he loves her.
The SEALs finally have a green light on all three pirates, and they go down. Silence fills the small lifeboat. Phillips, covered in blood, frantically works to remove his blindfold. Upon seeing that all three pirates are dead, he yells in relief, screaming – and, finally, the realization of what he’s survived sinks in. He begins to cry, and goes into shock, unable to speak or comprehend what people are saying to him.
Meanwhile, Muse still thinks he will be meeting to discuss a ransom. The utter devastation on his face as the SEALs read him the Miranda Rights is just one reason there’s already Oscar buzz for Barkhad Abdi.
The character development was an interesting choice; instead of focusing on a few characters, there was an attempt to see several characters develop in one way or another. For some characters it was more effective than others. However, with so many characters getting their own storyline, it was hard to stay focused on the central plot – and this also took away from the development that could have focused more on Phillips and Muse. Some may argue that this was a film based on real events and real people; but it’s being promoted as a bio-pic, which means it is a biographical film which dramatizes real events.
And it seems that no matter what character development choices were made, their portrayal of Phillips might be a little inaccurate. Several crew members are suing, stating that Phillips’ reckless behavior was what steered them into the pirate-infested waters in the first place.
Captain Phillips is a daring story of adventure, bravery and heroics—depending on who you talk to. No matter who’s to blame for the Maersk Alabama being attacked by pirates, this film is definitely not one to miss. But if you’re easily seasick, beware: director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) loves his hand-held cameras, and Captain Phillips is no exception.
While the visual effects and camera-work can’t compare to Gravity, this feel-good movie (if you ignore the inaccuracies and controversy) is a film you won’t regret watching.