CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (PG-13)

Captain Phillips (PG-13)

 
 
Tom Hanks is in serious trouble in a scene from 'Captain Phillips.
Tom Hanks is in serious trouble in a scene from 'Captain Phillips.
Hopper Stone / COLUMBIA PICTURES

Movie Info

Rating: * * * 1/2

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Chris Mulkey, Catherine Keener.

Director: Paul Greengrass.

Screenwriter: Billy Ray. Based on the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty.

Producers: Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, Scott Rudin.

A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 134 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.


rrodriguez@MiamiHerald.com

In Captain Phillips, director Paul Greengrass pulls off the same remarkable feat he accomplished with United 93: He takes a true story in which the outcome is already known and transforms it into a gripping, wrenching, devastating thriller. This one plays like an enormous punch to the gut. The movie is based on Richard Phillips’ book-length account of the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship by Somali pirates, the first such attack on a U.S. vessel in 200 years. But although the scenario might seem limited in dramatic potential, screenwriter Billy Ray ( Shattered Glass, State of Play) takes a journalistic approach to the story, turning it into a procedural in which every detail contributes to the whole: the way the ragtag group of pirates comes together; the day-to-day operations of the mammoth ship; the limited resources Phillips had to defend his boat against an attack and the ingenious tactics he employed in order to save his crew.

Like United 93, Captain Phillips doesn’t take political sides. Greengrass approaches the story from the center out, showing instead of telling and focusing on the humanity of its protagonists instead of their ideals. The movie allows us to interpret everyone’s actions instead of telling us what to think and how to feel about them. We come to understand why the skinny Muse (the terrific Barkhad Abdi), the leader of the four-man pirate gang, feels justified in trying to rob the cargo ship (he’s a small-time fisherman who resents big corporations draining the resources of the African coast; he’s resentful of what he perceives to be American imperialism). We learn exactly how a few armed men on a rickety speedboat could manage to board and commandeer such an enormous craft. And through Tom Hanks’ remarkable performance as the eponymous protagonist, we experience the constant rush of emotions the by-the-book captain felt, from dread to fear, desperation to panic, despair to hopelessness.

Hanks has entered a stage in his career where we take him for granted. He’s a reliably warm and funny presence ( Larry Crowne, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) who occasionally takes show-off, look-at-me! chances ( Cloud Atlas) that don’t amount to much. But in Captain Phillips, Hanks delivers his subtlest, most internalized performance to date. Phillips is an experienced sailor, a pragmatic man who believes in procedure and routine. When he’s thrust into a situation where the normal rules no longer apply, he has to relearn everything he knows and try to deal with captors who have impossible expectations and place a much lesser value on human life than he does. Hanks allows you to watch this man react to extreme circumstances and respond the best he can. A big part of the film’s considerable suspense comes in seeing what Phillips will try next, even after he’s been trapped into the tightest corner imaginable.

Greengrass tones down his trademark shaky-cam style just enough that you can always follow the action, although the handheld camerawork still makes you feel like you’re living the movie along with its characters. The movie’s first scene is so clunky — Phillips’ ride to the airport with his wife (Catherine Keener, sporting a horrible frizzy-hair wig), during which they talk about how much the world has changed and how much better things used to be — that you brace yourself for a disaster. But by the time Captain Phillips reaches its stunning final scene, which manages to be happy and emotionally devastating at the same time, even that horrible opening makes sense. I’ve purposely avoiding recounting what happens in Captain Phillips, because even though the story is well-known, the movie plays even better if you’re not familiar with the facts. But Greengrass’ treatment of this material — and Hanks’ extraordinary performance — makes the movie required viewing for the informed and uninformed alike.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">What’s the secret?</span> Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are a brother and sister trying to solve the mystery of a demonic mirror in ‘Oculus.’

    Oculus (R)

    Mirrors have been as much of a fixture in horror movies as knives and cats that suddenly jump from the shadows. But they’re best in cameos, as in the ending of Dressed to Kill or the bathroom scene in The Shining. Oculus revolves entirely around an ornate mirror that is, what, a gateway to hell? A summoning force for evil spirits? A really ugly piece of furniture from a medieval Pottery Barn?

  •  
Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman square off in a scene from ‘The Raid 2.’

    The Raid 2 (R)

    Every time you think The Raid 2 can’t possibly top itself, writer-director Gareth Evans goes “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” Most of 2011’s The Raid: Redemption took place inside a tenement raided by a SWAT team to apprehend a mobster and his squad of killers holed up inside. Practically no one survived the movie — the violence was astonishing — but the contained setting and the idea of having events grow hairier for the good guys the higher they went in the building gave the tight 101-minute movie a sense of compressed, relentless action. Now comes The Raid 2 (known as The Raid 2: Bernadal in its native Indonesia), which is far more expansive and complicated, and runs almost 2 ½ hours. Miraculously, the new picture makes the old one feel like Evans was just warming up.

  •  
A sexual addict (Charlotte Gainsbourg) visits a therapist (Jamie Bell) with unorthodox methods to try to help get over her compulsion in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’

    NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 2 (unrated)

    Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 (unrated)

    Things get really kinky in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, the second chapter in director Lars von Trier’ epic-length saga about a woman who can’t get enough. If you saw Vol. 1, which ended with our perpetually horny heroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) losing all feeling in her sexual organs, you might be wondering, “How could this movie outdo the first one?” To quote the great Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category