October 13, 2013

capt phillips1 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Paul Greengrass seems to thrive on finding the line for unbearable tension and hectic, claustrophobic action. He gained fame for helming The Bourne Supremacy and The Borne Ultimatum, but this one has more in common with his excellent United 93. Somehow he keeps us gripping the armrests despite knowing full well how the story ends. That is a talented filmmaker.

What adds to the stressed-filled fun here is that the world’s greatest everyman, Tom Hanks, meets his match with fire-eyed Somalian pirate Muse, played by first time actor Barkhad Abdi. The scenes pitting these two against each capt phillips2other are fascinating studies and the perfect example of vastly different worlds colliding. Hanks plays Captain Phillips, who is charged with guiding the cargo ship Maersk Alabama through the pirate filled waters. Phillips is not the warmest of guys, but seems to be a competent captain with respect from the crew.

Most of us remember watching on TV in 2009 as the 5 day sequence ended thanks to yet another perfectly executed Navy SEALs rescue mission. Greengrass does a terrific job of reenacting this moment. The other two moments that are sure to leave an impression both involve Mr. Hanks. The initial scene on the bridge as the pirates assume control of the ship … when Muse tells Phillips that he is now the captain, we see a flash of surrender in Phillips’ face. A stunning scene for both Hanks and Abdi (and congrats to Abdi for going toe to toe with the acting legend). The other scene worthy of discussion occurs after the rescue as Captain Phillips is escorted to sick bay to be checked out. His “in shock” actions are startling and very brave for an actor. Some may argue that Hanks took it too far, but I would encourage you to imagine yourself in that lifeboat and determine just how courageous you would be. Abdi also has a scene where he first discovers capt phillips3this is an American ship. He reacts as if he has won the lottery.  Since he is now serving time in a US prison, he has probably figured out that American roads are not paved with gold.

It was interesting to see how Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) provide the contrast of the pressure the warlords put on the poverty stricken Somalian citizens and the high-tech, global view of the shipping company and crew.  This same contrast is apparent in the pirates vs. Phillips intrigue.  The film also begins with a peek at Phillips’ personal life and marriage (wife played by Catherine Keener).  We see the signs of a long-term relationship between people who communicate by talking around an issue (their kid and Phillips’ risky job).

Some scandal surrounds this story as there is a lawsuit against Maersk and Phillips brought by members of the crew. The contention being that Phillips knowingly steered the ship too close to the pirate waters in order to save time and money. Phillips went on to write a best selling book recounting the ordeal and he also returned to his job as ship captain. Hanks was the perfect choice to play Phillips as the story is more about a regular guy being thrust into an extraordinary situation. Phillips is no superhero … he doesn’t disarm four pirates. Instead, he uses guts and a will to live …  characteristics we all hope we would exhibit should we ever find ourselves in such a traumatic situation.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy tension-packed, based on a true story movies with expert acting

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you prefer light-hearted Tom Hanks (Big, Larry Crowne) to heavy-drama Tom Hanks (Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan)

watch the trailer:




March 13, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. The trailers and the involvement of director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon gave me the initial impression this was to be little more than a “Bourne” rip-off. I am happy to report that’s not the case. This is a fantastic story that is a cross between an Iraqi War movie and political thriller.

Matt Damon plays an officer responsible for following the military intel for WMD locales in the early days of the invasion. He gets more frustrated and untrusting as each target comes up empty. When he questions the intel to his superiors, he is “politely” told to follow his orders. At the same time, he is approached by a grizzled CIA veteran played by Brendan Gleeson. The CIA happens to agree with Damon’s character … the intel is faulty and the belief is an ulterior motive is at play by the administration.

Of course, this is not a documentary. It is merely another step in the exploration of what the driving force was for invading Iraq in the first place. Were WMD’s a cover for the pursuit of Saadam? The script is based on a book, and leads us to believe the WMD intel was rigged because that was a great reason to present to our allies and citizens. The disconnect between the administration and the CIA appears evident. A smarmy Greg Kinnear plays an administration official who has much power … and a special forces team reporting directly to him.

The film highlights the blunders and poor decisions made early on in the invasion. Not really sure if they were blunders or if the mission was simply misguided. Either way, this makes for a great story and an intense one to follow. A real statement is made when one of the locals who has been assisting Damon, surprises him and states something along the lines of “You don’t get to decide the fate of my country”. That’s not the exact quote, but it is the key point the film is making.  We also get a replay of President Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln proclaiming “Mission Accomplished”.  That gets more painful upon each viewing.

The bad news is that Paul Greengrass is at his shaky camera worst. The first 15 minutes of the film and the climax chase scene to, through and outside the safe house were so bad that I felt queasy. I love well placed hand-held camera work, but this was beyond extreme – it was quite simply over the top and distracts from what should have been a near-classic.