Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Captain Phillips

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS              C               
USA  (134 mi)  2013 ‘Scope  d:  Paul Greengrass                    Official site

In America, you just can’t explain the passion exhibited for typical Hollywood action movies like this one, as it receives all kinds of critical accolades and people buy into the deluded belief that this is good filmmaking, when in fact this is fairly typical of what any decent Hollywood director can do, and this one is no exception.  Paul Greengrass is a British film director who made a name for himself with BLOODY SUNDAY (2002), where his startling use of handheld cameras gave the viewers a near documentary, you-are-there perspective in a stunning recreation of actual events that took place in 1972 when British paratroopers opened fire on a peaceful Irish demonstration killing 14 Irish protesters.  The style was immediate, as it won the top prize at the Berlin Film festival, which it shared with Miyazaki’s SPIRITED AWAY (2001), and it remains at the pinnacle of his best work.  Since then, Greengrass directed the second and third installments of the Bourne series (2004, 2007), both extremely popular, while also directing UNITED 93 (2006), a somewhat fictionalized recreation of what happened on 9/11, for which he received near unanimous praise.  So while the man has established credentials in both Britain and America, this is not among his best work, despite the overpraised accounts, but is instead just another one of the over-amped Hollywood productions, something of a recreation of actual events when a U.S. cargo ship, the MV Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, taking the captain hostage briefly until he was rescued in a daring Navy SEALS operation.  Based upon the book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea, by Stephan Talty and ship captain Richard Phillips, the film stars the ever likeable Tom Hanks as the lead character, who actually takes a crack at a Boston accent early in the film, but it disappears throughout the film. 

While the captain’s actions have been described as heroic, some crew members have considered him reckless, as there were 16 pirate attacks and eight hostage situations in the three weeks prior to their hijacking, yet he ignored warnings to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia, presumably to save money in a shorter distance, as the ship was just 240 miles off the coast instead, where he is being sued by 11 members of the 20-man crew for reckless endangerment, and call the movie version a big lie, Captain Phillips Is a Lie: Real Captain Is No Hero, According To Crew.  Hollywood has a history of embellishing the truth, and even award Best Picture Oscars, as they did in the case of Argo (2012), often creating American heroes for their beloved stars while other equally deserving, or in some cases even more deserving actions are ignored for the sake of a fictionalized movie. While that is a major issue in the case of Argo, not so much here, even though it may earn Hanks another Oscar nomination.  The real issue here is the filmmaking itself, which goes on far too long, showing little character development, instead featuring characters screaming and yelling all the time, while exhibiting Hollywood overkill, where the constant drumbeat of rising percussion from Henry Jackman’s score just overplays its hand, attempting to push this film down people’s throats, as if that makes for an exciting, pulse-pounding thriller.   A better editing job might have helped, where the introductory establishing shots in both Somalia and Vermont are superfluous, as no backstory is really provided, or needed, while Billy Ray’s script couldn’t be more cliché ridden, showing no interaction between crew members other than the usual gripes about overwork, and equally appalling language coming from the military ship captain as they receive incoming instructions about the hijacking in progress. 

While some may be thrilled by the enthralling build-up of suspense, much of it slowed to a crawl, as the pirates attempted to locate the missing crew, room by room, step by step, going ever lower into the bowels of the ship, yet the drumbeat kept pounding, as if there was something more happening.  This is all generic Hollywood filmmaking in the style of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), and then again in TITANIC (1997).  Not much has changed here, as except for a few brief moments, which are exhilarating flare-ups, such as the taking of the ship, the seizure of the bridge, the crew overpowering one of the hijackers, the attempted exchange of captains, and a few brief exchanges between the U.S. military vessels and the Somali pirates with the captain in a lifeboat at sea, most of the time is spent simply adrift at sea, with pirates continually arguing about what to do.  Some of what the movie depicts is borderline ridiculous, such as the pirates refusing to allow the captain, or one of their own men, to dress serious wounds of two of the pirates, as they have him surrounded with automatic rifles while he’s unarmed, so what threat does he pose?  The wound poses more of a threat, as a prolonged, untreated infection could lead to something far worse, and it was negatively affecting the ability of both pirates to maintain focus.  The real discovery here is first-time actor Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the head pirate that convincingly plays a man who’s used to facing adversity, perhaps more than any of the others, who continually stands up to Captain Phillips, and the American military, displaying a unique brand of bravery himself, even if he is an outlaw, as he has to continually keep a group of undisciplined followers from self-destructing.  Perhaps what’s most interesting about the film is Muse gets more attention than any other character in the film, including the title character, which is the one choice the film gets right.  While Abdi  is terrific throughout, Hanks really only displays any specialized acting skills in the final few moments, when he’s still in shock after the NAVY SEALS rescue mission, but those few minutes of confusion may be the most humanizing moments in the entire film.   

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