'Captain Phillips' incredible movie October 26, 2013 • Patrick White
“Captain Phillips” has all the makings of an Oscarwinning film similar to “The Butler,” released earlier this year, but something is rotten in the state of Somalia. “Captain Phillips” explores two livelihoods of vastly different men: one a captain of a cargo ship; the other a Somalian pirate. Director Paul Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse create powerful parallelism by splicing scenes of Phillips with Muse, the chief Somalian pirate. Phillips is found with his wife in a decent sized home with breakfast on the table. Muse, however, lays on the ground of his shack made of scrap pieces of metal. The parallels continue as Phillips takes a flight to his freighter while Muse fights for a job amongst many Somalian men. The major difference here is that Muse fights for a criminal job while Phillips files into his blue-collar work discussing his son who wants a chance on the ships, but the captain is hesitant to encourage his son as the job has become very competitive.
The mirror image of two men trying to support their families is visually apparent from director Paul Greengrass and expertly written by screenwriter Billy Ray. Ray makes the film more than what appears to be a true account of Somalians taking over a shipping freighter from the tightfisted Captain Richard Phillips and turns it into a fascinating exploration of two societies, their difference, and more interestingly their similarities.
Phillips is played by the transformative Tom Hanks who has fallen into middle age with ease as he leaves behind youthful men. His prime is in the past, but only Hanks could take that as an opportunity to give himself a chance to examine and portray people who have experienced life and all its evils. Hanks brings star power to the role and his nice-guy charm make Phillips more empathetic. In moments of suspense, Hanks purely shines, but it’s the father in Phillips that is more interesting to witness. One of the young Somalians cuts his feet on glass strategically laid by Phillips’ crew and the captain focuses on the young man’s wounds rather than his own safety.
I could rave all day about this entirely engaging film and the performances, but I’m going to get on my soap box for a moment. The biggest issue I have with the film is one I found with “The Butler” after my review was published. “Captain Phillips,” like “The Butler,” is not a true story; the film is a presentation of false heroism and selflessness not inherently within Capt. Richard Phillips. According to his crew, the captain should not be considered a hero. He was reckless in his actions considering he put them into harm’s way unnecessarily.
There has been a trend as of late to inflate heroic true stories into something they’re not. In fact, we gave an Oscar to one of those films just last year, “Argo.” “Captain Phillips’ ” Oscar hopes aren’t high, but Hanks may have a nomination coming for his portrayal of this would-be hero whose own account of the tale has recently been published.
It’s not my job to tell you not to see a film, it’s my job to inform you. “Captain Phillips” is an incredible motion picture, but that’s all it is. Don’t look at the film as the whole truth and nothing but. Appreciate it for the contrast created between middle-class American citizens and poor Somalians who see no way out of poverty unless they use criminal means. For that tale Greengrass is more the hero than Phillips, because he’s bringing to light a problem so supremely wrong with this world that we often ignore.
The filmmaking is incredible and keeps an audience on the edge of their seat throughout and never lets up on the relentless noise of the picture. Not until the very end will you realize how effectively Greengrass uses the vicious, mechanical sounds of ships both under and above water to create an immersive atmosphere for both actors and audience. Unfortunately beneath this thrilling sea epic is a falsely constructed story of a man who may not be all that heroic after all.