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Movie Review: Captain Phillips

  • Actor(s): Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
  • Title: Captain Phillips
  • Director: Paul Greengrass
  • Type: Thriller
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One of the major flaws of thrillers in this generation is their inability to create and sustain a palpable dose of tension. Tension is what grounds films of this genre. It’s that feeling of anxiety and the fear of the unknown that truly grips an audience, making them believe they are an integral part of the experience, and that there is nothing they can do to change what is happening on screen. Modern day thrillers have lost sight of this idea, delivering films with all the thrills but no buildup of tension. Without that tension and anxiety, audiences are left empty and clamoring for something more once the film comes to a close. In his film Captain Phillips, Director Paul Greengrass revives an ailing and saturated genre by returning to core filmmaking elements. With the use of tight handycam work, impeccable pacing, and encore performances by Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, Greengrass delivers one of the most exciting and anxiety filled experiences in the past decade of cinema.

Greengrass, mostly known for his work with the Jason Bourne franchise (The Bourne Supremacy 2004, The Bourne Ultimatum 2007), has always been a master of employing solid handycam work in his films. His fighting sequences and chase scenes from the Bourne franchise were some of the best to date, delivering a sense of uneasiness and disorientation. Greengrass stays true to this style of filming in Captain Phillips. Shots are tight, quick, and downright claustrophobic at times. However, they never draw the audience out of the action. Handycam work is a dying art in modern cinema, with most directors choosing steadicams and dollies as not to disorient the audience. Greengrass, however utilizes it so brilliantly, that he draws the audience closer into the experience. This in turn creates a tension so heavy and so real, that audiences will literally squirm in their seats. It’s truly gut wrenching to experience, as it never obstructs from the proper pacing the film exhibits.

Thrillers themselves, tend to fall apart pacing wise as films progress. Whether it’s a poorly written script or just a lack of effort filmmaking wise, thrillers today, seem unable to withstand the test of time. Greengrass, however, puts that notion to rest. His balance in storytelling is what truly shines in Captain Phillips. Jumping back and forth between the protagonist and the antagonist sides of the story not only gives the film a great sense of pace, but it also leads great insight to the other side of the spectrum. Audiences get to see a piece of what it is to be a Somali Pirate struggling to survive. This juxtaposition with the story of the crew of the Alabama cargo ship, balances the story and leaves the audience with no unanswered questions. This swing of attention adds immensely to the build of anxiety.The audience gets a taste of both worlds without ever feeling like they are neglecting either one. It’s never a cheap feeling of “Hey here is the bad guy and this the hero”. Instead, Greengrass relies on the stellar performances by Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) and Barkhad Abdi (Muse) to portray that fact.

Hanks and Abdi absolutely blew a hole through the screen. The relationship between the characters was simply iconic. Never before has so much tension been filled in a few lines of dialogue between two characters. Their interactions in the film ultimately ground the experience and will have audiences clenching anything they can get a hold of. Hanks (Phillips) was incredible. His portrayal of Captain Phillips is simply something to behold. Audiences will cheer at his moments of wit, cunning, and heroism. He brings such real emotion and weight to the role. It is truly stunning to see an actor become a living, breathing character. Hanks again establishes himself as a top tier actor and an all time legend. Conversely, Abdi (Muse) was absolutely chilling. There are moments when the audience will turn away in sheer terror of him. His eyes alone add so much tension to the film. Then add his surprising charm and easy-going attitude, and he becomes one of the deepest villains in the past few years. Audiences will loathe him on screen but also enjoy the anxiety and tension he brings. For this being his first big picture Abdi truly established himself as someone to look out for in the near future.

All in all, Greengrass has truly showcased himself as a mastermind of creating tension. He delivers such an anxiety filled experience that most viewers will find it hard to leave their seats once the film comes to a close. It is surely a heavy experience, however Greengrass’s clever pacing never renders the heavy use of handycam work as tiresome or nauseating. It truly draws the audience in and never lets go until the credits roll. While the film does suffer from some moments of staleness in its latter half, the performances by Hanks and Abdi are always right there to keep the audience locked in and engaged. This film is certainly one of the better thrillers of this generation and by far the best work by Greengrass. If tension and anxiety is something the viewer craves, then Captain Phillips will certainly not disappoint. This film is a must see and surely destined to cause some noise come Oscar season.

-Review by Josh Thomas

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