Access’ Scott “Movie” Mantz weighs in on Tom Hanks’ new film, “Captain Phillips,” calling it a rousing and gripping thriller – one where you feel good for the good guys, and maybe even a little bit bad for the bad ones.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
For the second time in less than a year, a feature film that’s based on an incredible true story depicts a crisis that’s played out on the other side of the world, culminating with a super-intense mission that’s executed by Navy SEALs.
But while the stakes in the real-life hijacking of a U.S. cargo ship in “Captain Phillips” may not match the worldwide hunt for Osama Bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty,” the suspense is just as pulse-pounding – as it should be, coming from Paul Greengrass, the director of visceral thrillers like 2004’s “The Bourne Supremacy,” 2006’s “United 93” and 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
But where the thwarted terrorist hijacking of the doomed flight in “United 93” was carried out tens of thousands of feet in the air, leaving the story to be pieced together by black box recordings, cell phone records and sheer speculation, the well-documented attack on the MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in 2009 took place on the open seas, concluding with the daring rescue of the ship’s commander, Richard Phillips (played in the film by Tom Hanks), who was being held hostage in an enclosed lifeboat 145 miles off the Somali coast.
It’s the stuff that great movies are made of, and for the most part, “Captain Phillips” is indeed a great movie: it’s based on a fascinating true story, it’s full of almost non-stop intensity and it features two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”) in the title role of a real-life hero.
But despite a riveting, gripping and highly-charged 40-minute finale that plays out like “Zero Dark Thirty” on a boat, the 2-hour-and-14-minute movie feels a bit overlong, and the film’s emotional anchor doesn’t drop until quite literally the last minute. (And when it does drop, brace yourself for a powerful impact that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.)
But it’s the relationship between the two captains that gives the film its voice. Richard Phillips, a civilized man from the industrial world, is at odds with his Somali counterpart, Muse, a desperate man from the third world, where high-seas piracy is his destitute country’s most lucrative business. As Muse, newcomer Barkhad Abdi is extremely effective, using his gaunt frame to give a standout performance that’s both ominous and sympathetic – and one that should be recognized come Oscar time.
Yet at the precise moment when “Captain Phillips” should be at its most intense, the film loses its focus (though just a bit) while the Navy SEALs devise their rescue plans. By cutting away from Phillips’ ordeal on the lifeboat to the procedural details being mapped out on the U.S. warships, the pace gets disrupted by cumbersome minutiae. But it still fully succeeds as a rousing and gripping thriller – one where you feel good for the good guys, and maybe even a little bit bad for the bad ones.
Verdict: SEE IT!
-- Scott Mantz