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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Captain Phillips (Release Date: 10-11-2013)

        At first glance, the premise of Captain Phillips appears more than a little troubling. You probably already know the story: in 2009, a group of Somali pirates hijacked a U.S. container ship, taking the boat's captain (and this film's namesake) hostage, demanding millions in return. On paper, this pitting of innocent Americans against armed African assailants reads like star-spangled propaganda of the worst kind. Throw in Mr. Apple Pie himself, Tom Hanks, and you've got a sterling tale of perseverance, and courage under fire. As it turns out, it's not quite so easy.

        It never is with this Paul Greengrass guy! The british adrenaline junkie (see: film director) has always found a way to confound familiar storytelling rhetoric, wether it be his contained, humanized approach to the 9/11 attacks in United 93, or his choice to turn Matt Damon into a near-silent tragic hero in the actor's last two Bourne installments. He looks at each story he tells from innumerable angles, neglecting reductive thinking at every turn, making him the perfect helmer for CP messy globalization think-piece.

        Perhaps his and the team's finest decision this go-around is allowing Phillips to share co-protagonist duties with the pirates' feather-weight leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a juxtaposition that reveals the pressures and responsibilities each must deal with, creating a fascinating parallel between two hugely different worlds. The strategy wouldn't work is Abdi wasn't up to the task, but the first-time feature actor is Hanks' perfect foil, natural, nervous, aggressive, and unnervingly raw. Hanks, who will likely land his first acting Oscar nomination since 2001, deserves every last ounce of the golden man, at first underplaying the role before gradually peeling off layers of calm and cool, unraveling before our eyes. There's a scene near the end that's almost too astoundingly acted to believe; I'd elaborate, but you'll know when you see it.

        As intriguing and unselling as Captain Phillips is as a geopolitical parable, it's at least as accomplished as white-knuckle thriller. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd imports all of the kinetic energy and tension he brought to The Hurt Locker and United 93 straight into the film, and editor Christopher Rouse keeps the heat on with his pace and sharp cuts. There have certainly been movies with more intense scenes or passages, but I honestly can't remember the last time an action movie had me on the edge of my seat for the length of time that Captain Phillips did (This could have been you, Gravity, but bless your zero-g heart for getting off screen while you were still way, way ahead). Two-plus hours have rarely gone by so fast, or conjured so much stress; if you take your movies with a healthy helping of sweat and a side of political intrigue, Greengrass' latest is an absolute must.

Grade: A-

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