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"CAPTAIN PHILLIPS"
(2013) (Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramatic Thriller: The captain of a cargo ship must contend with attempts by Somali pirates to hijack his vessel.
PLOT:
It's 2009 and Captain Richard Phillips (TOM HANKS) is headed overseas where he's to pilot the container ship Maersk Alabama from Oman to Kenya. With the help of his second-in-command, Shane Murphy (MICHAEL CHERNUS), Capt. Phillips is fully aware of the dangers posed by small bands of pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. After receiving an updated email warning about that, Capt. Phillips has his crew of 20 go through a practice drill, unaware that it will quickly turn into the real thing.

And that's because a small speedboat commanded by Muse (BARKHAD ABDI) and holding his fellow Somali pirates, Elmi (MAHAT M. ALI), Najee (FAYSAL AHMED) and young Bilal (BARKHAD ABDIRAHMAN), is racing toward the Maersk Alabama. While Capt. Phillips and his crew manage to thwart the first hijacking attempt, Muse and his crew are successful on their second.

As the pirates board the ship, Capt. Phillips stays on the bridge with just two other crewmembers, all while Shane and the rest take refuge down in the engine room. From that point on, Capt. Phillips tries to figure out how to deal with the pirates and their demands, a tactic that puts his life and those of his crew in danger, all while the U.S. Navy sweeps in to resolve the incident.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Over the past decades and thanks to my chosen careers as well as plain dumb luck, I've managed to meet a fairly impressive array of famous people. Those have ranged from Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the U.S., to legendary U.S. senators, astronauts, professional athletes, explorers and, more recently and due to my current role in life, lots of Hollywood's finest.

In the end, though, they're all just people like you and me, albeit ones with fame, fortune and the perks and pitfalls that come with both. What's interesting, though, is that some who I thought would be intimidating to meet were no big deal, while others who you'd think wouldn't get you worked up had just the opposite effect.

And many of those come from the Hollywood community, especially if they're big movie stars. And much of that stems from the fact that they often literally and figuratively play larger than life characters up on the big screen. Thus, even if they end up being my size or smaller upon meeting them, they still have that star aura. I guess that might wear off once you got to know them and were around them for some time. Even so, I'd hate to be some novice actor having to share the screen with them, especially if you're role is to intimidate them.

All of which brings us around to "Captain Phillips," director Paul Greengrass' take on the true life story of Capt. Richard Phillips who was kidnapped, along with his crew, back in 2009 by pirates off the Somali coast for ransom purposes. In the film, big-time star Tom Hanks plays the title character, and Barkhad Abdi embodies the lead antagonist.

One has been working in the biz for thirty plus years and has been nominated five times for an Academy Award for Best Actor and won twice, not to mention having an unadjusted worldwide box office return north of $8 billion. The other is as green as they come, a young man who was born in Somalia and lived in the nightmarish Mogadishu until his parents got him out of the country and resettled in Minneapolis. He then got the break of a lifetime responding to an open audition casting call for a part in Greengrass' film.

What's amazing is that Abdi not only holds his own against his far more famous and seasoned star, but could very well get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work here as a believably intimidating, intense and increasingly desperate pirate. Depending on how the rest of the award season plays out, Hanks could also notch another nomination of his own, quite likely mostly from the very last sequence in the film where his character finally has an emotional breakdown after managing to remain steadfast for the rest of the film's two-plus hour runtime.

Early in the script by Billy Ray, the theme is set as Hanks' character chats with his wife (Catherine Keener, seen only in this one scene) about their kids and their chances out in the real world, saying one must be strong to survive. Not only does that eventually play out for Phillips once the siege begins, but it also applies to Abdi's character who's one of many Somali pirates badgered by his warlord boss to score a big get and must then compete against a rival to be top dog. Both are leaders in their own right, but are operating from different places and do their best to succeed in obtaining their disparate goals.

Notwithstanding the director's trademark shaky-cam filming technique (which is exacerbated but also seemingly somewhat nullified by the at-sea rocking movements), I found the film to be solid across the board. Yet, and notwithstanding that aforementioned emotion-laden concluding sequence, I felt somewhat detached from the rest of the story as it transpired. Some of that could obviously stem from knowing how things were going to play out (what with being familiar with the news accounts of the real event), knowledge that obviously mitigated much of the suspense (the riveting performance from Abdi and his cohorts notwithstanding).

That said, the same could have applied to Greengrass' earlier work, "United 93," but that film was about as riveting and moving as they come. Granted, it was only five years removed from the 9/11 event and picked open a scar most viewers didn't want touched. But it also dramatized the actions of those onboard, something about which few really had the full and complete picture.

The same should have applied here as most didn't and still don't know what occurred on the cargo ship and then its covered lifeboat where the captain ended up with the four pirates. While it's clearly never boring to watch, the way in which the filmmakers have those events unfold simply didn't have me glued to my seat like I imagined they would (those not familiar with the real-life story might find it all far more riveting).

The leads, though, deliver strong performances, with Abdi easily standing toe-to-toe with his more veteran and award winning co-star who waits until the very end of the film to knock his own performance out of the park. "Captain Phillips" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed October 3, 2013 / Posted October 11, 2013


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