By David Poland email@example.com
Review: Captain Phillips (spoiler-free)
I honestly don’t see how anyone can truthfully say that this is not a good movie.
It is expertly made by Paul Greengrass & Co, expertly acted by Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, and the rest of the cast, and it is expertly written by Billy Ray.
But my contention is that this is a good movie… sometimes a very good movie… and only for five minutes or so, at the end, is it a great movie.
Considering the narrative limitations of the story, Captain Phillips is surprisingly audience-friendly. You pretty much know the major beats of the plot looking at the commercials and/or trailers. But this is not a movie about narrative. It is about people under pressure, both the people on “our” side and the people on the “other” side. The film forces audience members to consider all kinds of choices, most of which we will never face in the specific, but which all reflect the kinds of things we make decisions about every day in our boring old lives. What is heroism? What is an honorable choice? Where is the line between desperation and desperation so extreme that is excuses bad behavior?
The core confrontation of the film is between “first world” values about what is important and where the boundaries should be and where the same choices are in “third world” countries. It gets more complex when choices aren’t really choices. For instance, what do you do when you are willing to give up your cargo, but you have real concerns about the safety of the people working on the boat? What choices do you make when you think the outside forces are only worried about stuff when in fact, there are more political issues at play that you haven’t ever really considered?
I guess people read reviews to gauge their own interest in the film being written about. That’s a tough call in the case of Captain Phillips. Some people will find it an absolute bore. (That is not to say that they will not respect the filmmaking, performances, etc.) Some people will hang on every mini-cliffhanger and love the film deeply.
For me, the lack of a hard-pumping narrative engine was fine. It allows the film a chance to breathe. And when the alarm bells ring, the fact that I wasn’t on the edge of my seat felt like a choice by the filmmaker. I was gripped… but I wasn’t exhausted. And as some of the same kinds of things repeat in the late second act and early third, I kind of enjoyed a moment of boredom here and there… since that is the reality of life, even in life and death situations. There are quiet moments. That’s what is so good about the film. But some audiences will not be good with that.
Tom Hanks is really quite excellent, from start to finish. And when he delivers the big punch, towards the end of the film, it struck me as the best dramatic work of his career. Same issue as with the rest of Captain Phillips… it makes sense that he is less emotional (as the film is) earlier in the movie, but that doesn’t necessarily make it audience friendly.
So I can recommend the film to anyone… with a few reservations. I would explain, as I have here, what kind of things might throw you off. And if none of that bothers you, go see a good/very good/even great for a bit movie. And if it sounds like being tortured slowly, I don’t think I could tell you that the experience is going to be any better than that for you.
If you like my taste, go see it.
And I will be fascinated – more fascinated than usual – about how people respond to this film. I don’t really know where it will land with people. More than a little bit of United 93, for better and worse. And so it goes…