Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Film Review: Captain Phillips

Copyright: Columbia Pictures
In the entrance sequence of Captain Phillips, we witness a conversation between a wife and a husband. The husband is a maritime captain, and his wife is escorting him to an airport, from where he will set out to his next voyage. During their drive, they talk about how the world has changed and who their children will have a rough time in their adulthood.

For me, this was an awful way to open the film. The conversation tells us nothing about Phillips, or his wife. They sound as if they are practicing the lines from the beginning of an SNL sketch, right before one of them declares that she or he wants to join the circus or something ludicrous like that. There is no emotion that rings true, except perhaps a hint of subdued boredom from a decades long marriage. Tom Hanks, who plays Phillips, presents the same thing in this role – something seen and done many times by him, combined with an ever-present feeling of tiredness. The real is described by some of his crew as reckless, but here all of that was condensed into unintended bravery. Because the movie didn’t want to get political, I guess.I wondered to myself in that moment: if Paul Greengras, the director of this film had so much trouble presenting a regular middle-aged man from the US, how on Earth will he depict the Somali pirates?

The answer to that question is simple – he didn’t. Somalis that try to hijack the ship captained by Phillips are total stranger. Apart from their habit of chewing khat and vague references to their long vanished fishing lifestyle, the film steers clear of their motives or basic personalities. To be honest, they aren’t vilified, but in glances, we see them as ruthless, then childish, then scared, then crazy or indifferent. This may seem like a variety of human traits, but it actually manages to present an extremely hazy picture. I don’t feel like it was left to the viewer to decide who they actually are, but more likely, it had been deemed as unimportant. The pirates are just there, like a bad storm on the open sea.

On the other side of the action, there is the crew and their captain, supported by the American and British navies, equipped with enough firepower to sink the Spanish armada. Here, Greengras shows his military command and control fetish, and he dazzles the audience with the images of operating rooms, warship bridges and other battle stations. Navy people call other navy people, orders are given and someone is always counting down to something. This is where he obviously feels like home, and it’s not surprising after so many years in the Born films.

The problem is that even here I felt no suspense and no thrills. This film is a live-action, big budget documentary with Tom Hanks in the main role. After it, unlike after watching A Hijacking which left me intrigued and concerned, I felt mildly amused. Like its portrait of Somali pirates, Captain Phillips presents to its audience an emotional blank.

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