Captain Philips (2013)
Tom Hank’s cunning pincer movement to net another best actor gong is represented by two films this year, the Disneyfied courting of the author of Mary Poppins in Saving Mr Banks, and as the distressed ship’s captain facing down ruthless Somali pirates in Captain Philips – I’m not sure which is more terrifying. Personally speaking a cruel elixir of Disney and Mary Poppins is likely to induce a sea-sickening nausea in yours truly but I’m more than happy to board Paul Greengrass’s hulking political metaphor, as in the Indian sea a vast shipping container attracts limpet criminals to a capitalist whale, overflowing with an abundance of goods and products and the prospect of mercenary material gain. I quite like Hanks, in interviews he always comes across as an extraordinarily friendly and genial sort in interviews and junkets, a genuinely nice guy whom over the years he has moved steadily and proficiently from the frat-boy humor of his early roles to the towering seriousness and Oscar pulsing bait of big ‘important’ pictures. He has a definitive screen charisma which anchors an American pragmatism in both his historical and contemporary roles , a modern Henry Fonda you’d enjoying grabbing a hotdog with or maybe a less remote Gary Cooper you could grab a beer with, I can even forgive him for the offensive politics of Forrest Gump but that, as they say, is another story. But maybe, just maybe there is a black-hearted career driven psychopath beneath that genial carapace which would throw his own mother under a bus if it furthered his career*, as I think you can never fully trust a man who sports two christian names – think George Lucas, Bruce Willis, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, or Prince Charles.
Based on a true story whose authenticity is inevitably being questioned – apparently the non-fictional counterpart was allegedly a lot more renegade with his crews and passengers safety – the film is lifted from a 2009 incident where the Maersk Alabama , a civilian cargo ship was assaulted by a desperate group of Kalashnikov wielding Somali’s, their khat chomping leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and his erratic henchmen being briefly sketched as rather desperate young men driven to such extremes by the desperate socio-economic conditions of their broken country in an opening, context setting sequence. In fact the film is a surprising two-hander with Philips and Muse’s positions being given almost equal station, Philips remarking to his wife (Catherine Keener in roughly 90 seconds of screen-time for some odd reason) in a similar first act manoeuvre that ‘everything is moving so fast these days’ and ‘our children must learn to navigate a very different world’ which flares the directors thematic intentions, of desperate and confusing times presaging increasingly desperate measures.
Screenwriter Billy Ray has based this tense testimony on 2010’s breathless A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea and as you’d expect from a filmmaker with the adrenaline pumping calibre of Greengrass after that opening the technique is urgent, nervous and as choppy as the waters under which the drama unfolds, but I am simply tired and exhausted of his now distracting roving camera and frenetic editing rhythms, what once could signal an urgent momentum to his pulse racing narratives is tedious, alienating and confusing, he really needs to evolve as a filmmaker as he’s starting to resemble a clichéd bore. Speaking of dinosaurs this is might be my mood but I could not generate one iota of sympathy for the hi-jackers despite these submerged intentions, I wanted these violent idiots to be executed as swiftly as possible, and some rather signposted lulls in the action are exploited to punch a political message which falls well short of pathos or potential. Of course Greengrass is slightly more mature than the likes of a Michael Bay, a McG or other action directors of that ilk, and although he doesn’t get Hanks to hip-check a pirate into the drink, grasp his AK47 and begin pouring down a holocaust of hot leaden vengeance on the hoodlums he does have something of a hard-on for the military hardware once it arrives to muddy the waters, whilst I’m a bloke who enjoys exterminating faceless goons in computer games such as Military Industrial Recruitment VI: The Clones Of Saddam as much as the next Neanderthal this quiet acquiesence to overwhelming American force stands in an odd displacement to the previously deployed thematic depth-charges.
Hanks is desperately convincing as the terse Philips whom is just about keeping his head above a swamping sense of panic as the situation grows increasingly desperate and claustrophobic, and I must admit that the final sequence is exceptionally arranged with a terrific final scene which is just about worthy of the preceding two hours of uneven and turbulent intentions, but it takes a long time coming so for me I find it difficult to recommend this other than a home viewing option when it lands on disk sometime in the new year. Maybe I’m slighty miffed as evidently commentators with swifter pens than I have identified a trend of survival movies this year – I had already plugged this observation into my gestating and increasingly mammoth Films of The Year post (which is marinating very nicely thank you) so whilst for me this doesn’t assail the urgent heights of Gravity or All Is Lost your fathomage may vary, but make sure you reserve some resources to see next weeks major interstellar release;
* Yes I’m joking of course, my favourite Hanks story is this – on the pre-production of Saving Private Ryan as directors like to do Spielberg sent the entire team on a brutal regime of basic training to manufacture a sense of a group who lived together in an intense combat situation, to create a sense of close camaraderie. That big, burly tough-guy Vin Diesel led a revolution against the programme after 24 hours claiming that the exhausting process was pointless and stupid, and it was Hanks who quietly took him aside and instructed him to ‘man-the-fuck-up’ as they were representing heroes who had made the ultimate sacrifice for Europe and America – they all meekly reported back for duty the next day.