In the film Gravity, the suspense and feelings of terror come from the thought of not only being isolated in space, but also dealing with disaster while trapped in that world of quiet isolation. Captain Phillips is much like Gravity in that sense. The film deals with isolation on the open seas, and the disaster is a bunch of Somali pirates taking over the ship with hostages. The isolation and human drama is where this movie shines the most, unfortunately in the middle of Act II, Captain Phillips turns into a formulaic thriller film that is only saved with an intense and titillating final half hour.
Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is a family man who now has the job of being captain of MV Maersk Alabama. After being informed of Somali pirate attacks that have been occurring in that area, Phillips takes the necessary precautions to make sure his ship is safe. Unfortunately, his precautions are not enough and a band of pirates, led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi), get on the boat and hold the crew hostage. As the events progress, the pirates get on a life boat with Phillips as a hostage, with the Navy making close chase. As the rest of the night progresses, and Phillips keeps trying to negotiate for his life, the Navy make their own preparations to get Phillips out of there alive.
Captain Phillips is a Hot Pocket. What does that mean? Let me elaborate. Did you ever cook a Hot Pocket, but you just didn’t heat it up enough? It makes for a pretty nasty treat. Both ends are hot and delicious, but that large, meaty middle part is cold and disgusting. That, in essence, is Captain Phillips. I was so into the beginning of this movie. The way Phillips is shown with his wife and his crew is a perfect contrast to the Somalians, especially with the focus on Muse. It sets up something that I wasn’t expecting. Screenwriter Billy Ray and director Paul Greengrass choose to show both sides of the equation, which is very interesting and makes the whole story even more interesting.
Then Act II starts, and everything seems to be going well. Not with the characters, of course, but just how the movie feels. Greengrass’ style works great with the story and Hanks and Abdi are performing very well. I was on the edge of my seat only to be pushed back and made drowsy by the middle of this act. Compared to the tour de force sequences of the pirates getting on the barge and the whole feeling of being trapped on there with the characters was great. Then Phillips is put in the life boat with the pirates, and the Navy gets involved, and it all starts feeling like a typical thriller film. I rewatched the second act the next day, thinking I may have missed something, but I didn’t. It’s a really slow and boring sequence that really drags the film down from what it could have been.
Act III finally comes along, and all is forgiven. The last half hour of this movie is what really kills me and what makes me really want to like this movie more than I did. The suspense is back full force, to the point where I was almost thrown out of my seat. This is also where Tom Hanks goes from a good performance to one of the best of his career. It is arguably the best onscreen moment he has ever had in his entire career. If it wasn’t for this amazing ending, I would have completely disregarded the movie altogether, so it’s getting a lucky pass.
Captain Phillips is a perfect example of a movie that I wanted to like a lot more than I did. The second act drags the movie way, way down farther than I ever wanted it to go. Luckily the beginning and ending are both great, but that doesn’t excuse the movie as a whole. Tom Hanks gives one of the best performances of his career, and Barkhad Abdi gives an amazing debut performance. Greengrass was really the obvious choice as director, but I can’t help but be baffled by how uneven the pacing of the movie is. It’s hard to get by how awkward it is, and that’s what really is the most disappointing thing about Captain Phillips.
Since this is the last movie I had to see of all the Best Picture nominations, here’s my list of favorites, from the best picture to my least favorite.
- Dallas Buyers Club
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- 12 Years a Slave
- Captain Phillips
- American Hustle
Agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think.