It seems certain years are marked by themes in cinema. 1998 for example saw two films nominated for best picture which were Elizabethan period pieces (Shakespeare in Love (which thankfully won) and Elizabeth) and the other three were each set during World War II (Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line and Life is Beautiful). Currently in theaters this year there are three movies which share the idea of survival upon a floating vessel: Gravity [prior post], the Robert Redford picture All Is Lost, and Captain Phillips.
Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times writes and I concur:
When Paul Greengrass directs a thoroughly dramatic tale based on true events and Tom Hanks takes on the title role, you think you know what to expect. But just you wait — the piercingly realistic “Captain Phillips” will exceed your expectations.
The story of the six days that Richard Phillips, captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, spent in April 2009 first trying to avoid a gang of Somali pirates and then as their restive captive, this film does an impeccable job of creating and tightening the narrative screws. The result is so propulsive that you may find yourself looking at your watch not out of boredom but because you’re not sure how much more tension you can stand.
But “Captain Phillips,” based on the real man’s memoir, is more than a reaffirmation of how good Greengrass, responsible for both “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” is at the delicious mechanics of crackerjack storytelling.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Captain Phillips is that my rather detailed memory of how the incident was resolved did not in any way diminish the dramatic edge of the film. And another accomplishment is the sense that it is portraying the action exactly as it occurred. There is a little controversy in this regard, but the director has attested to the authenticity of the film’s depictions (see Wikipedia entry for more). Compare this to Argo, which definitely played up the drama by massaging the facts a bit. There’s no call for that here, as the true story is so incredible that no scriptwriter could have improved upon it. And finally, Greengrass gave just the right amount of backstory at the beginning of the film for both the Captain and the hijackers to add depth and impact to the unfolding events.
Captain Phillips was an excellent and thoroughly exciting film, and I pinned it as the best picture of the year so far… until I saw the next one (hang on for that post). Just outstanding. Aspiring filmmakers of movies in this vein could learn a lesson here, in order to avoid a disaster like Black Hawk Down or Zero Dark Thirty. I’m sure it will be among the several dozen Best Picture nominees, and Tom Hanks does a terrific job — perhaps the best of his career — and will receive another Oscar acting nomination. 9/10