I’m not sure if there is some sort of unwritten rule in Hollywood to pump out glorified films of American icons or a quota for the “Based On A True Story: American Hero” genre. With the likes of Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down, and G.I Joe: Retaliation, there is only one way to distinguish these films from the likes of Captain Phillips, and that’s the talent behind, and in front of the screen.
Captain Phillips is a clever, beautiful and meticulous piece of American propaganda. Brought out by its studios Columbia Pictures and Sony, it tells the story of a Captain of an American cargo ship being taken over by a small and young band of inexperienced Somali pirates.
Think of it like this; the film is directed by Paul Greengrass, the same director of United 93, a film that recounts the efforts of average American passengers foiling the plans of foreign terrorist plans during 9/11; it stars our generation’s own Humphrey Bogart, and arguably the most recognizable American actor right now, Tom Hanks, and its produced by the team behind other contemporary American classics like The Social Network. So why is Captain Phillips sinking right out of the water?
I know that, for the most part, I will be in the vast minority with my viewpoint on the film, already gaining critical praise and reception from early festival screenings and talk, most noticeably for Hanks’ performance. But what about the performances of the practically unknown, amateur and first time Somali actors who, not only hold their own beside the masterful Hanks, but at times tower over time like a freighter ship beside a life vessel. Pirates Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman) stand out more than the other two pirates, but as the award season nears closer, I am sure neither of these names will be announced as serious award contenders when the time comes.
What is most disappointing about Captain Phillips is its massive potential. The film starts off, giving the audience [somewhat] equal screen time to both the protagonist and antagonist, showing the lives of these two very different men and the ‘jobs’ they must perform in order to survive. One individual is a captain of a cargo ship who steers heavy waters to get shipments into port on time; the other is a fisherman who is violently forced to become a Somali pirate for a larger, more corrupt entity. Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray briefly touch upon the incongruencies of both men’s worlds and different upbringings as well as viewpoints, but, shortly after, is drowned with scenes of unapologetic American patriotism.
As for Tom Hanks, well, Hanks does what he does best throughout the course of the film. There is no denying Hanks as a powerhouse actor and fine entertainer, just not with the presence of other actors. Some of Hanks’ most memorable and recognized performances (Cast Away, The Terminal, Cloud Atlas) are ones when he is interacting with only himself. Captain Phillips is a testament to that notion; delivering his best and most emotional scenes in either a lifeless life vessel or disoriented and unresponsive to an aiding nurse, Hanks delivers his signature Tom Hanks characteristic, just with a different accent.
Unfortunately for Greengrass and company, Captain Phillips is an unaware, self-reflexive, continuing practice of the “home of the brave and land of the free” stretching its muscles. Just last year, making its premiere at the Venice and Toronto film festival circuit, a Danish film, titled A Hijacking made its rounds internationally, and then shortly after, in a limited theatre bout. The film never found footing after its critical praise and strong reception from audiences. The trailer is also oddly familiar to the style and narrative of Captain Phillips. Yet again, the Hollywood studio system just goes to show that with the right actor and precise director, no idea is safe of Hollywood’s ongoing obsession of being uncreative.
Emotionally charged, suspenseful and paced brilliantly, it is hard to ignore Captain Phillips as one’s familiar, unsteady first boat ride–it may be a bit nauseating, rough, and hard. Making you reconsidering jumping on again.
Night Film Reviews: 5/10 Stars