Sunday, November 17, 2013

Like: Captain Phillips

In the past, I've tried to explain my aversion to (and general disinterest in) thrillers thusly: they just bore me. When too much real world-style action happens too rapidly, I get tired. It's an exhaustion that's triggered by an empathetic response to the events on screen, maybe, but more so because my brain just turns off.  I didn't make it through the Bourne series because of this, and I have no interest in try try trying again.  If we dig a little deeper, though, it would perhaps be more accurate to insist that it's not thrillers I'm disinterested in, it's realism.  I'm totally on board with an otherwise generic thriller that incorporates some combination of the following: 1. a distinct, stylized color palette, 2. a seriously compelling villain (preferably of the smart, sadistic, evil mastermind kind) lurking as impetus to the action, and 3. a passing chance at snarky cleverness.  Captain Phillips, of course, is a ripped from the headlines think-piece of a thriller.  It's not a sexy, grinning, gun-barrel-licking Hollywood confection, but is instead so straight-laced it kind of hurts.  I mention all of this not because I'd wish anything else upon it, no; Captain Phillips is approached as it should be and with respect to the real life parties involved.  It's a harrowing, relentless, dramatic thriller.  It's just, see, I'm so not into it.    
Captain Phillips is, in many ways, an excellent version of the genre it works with.  This is director Paul Greengrass's specialty: the smart, gritty, somber, socially-conscious action movie, and he exercises an absolute control over the tightly constrained elements of 2009's headline-grabbing events.  Given my predilections, the smart film aficionado has likely already arrived at the conclusion that I have never been able to properly appreciate a single Greengrass film.  This is accurate, but I can still give a go at giving credit where it's due.  I understand, to a point, why audiences readily accepted Captain Phillips.  The film deals with actions shaded by emotion. There's an investment juxtaposing the lives of cargo ship captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the leader of the Somali pirate gang holding him captive, but it's one that Greengrass is cautious with.  The film opens showing us the conditions that foster African piracy, and though it works in those moments to emphasize the extreme poverty and lack of options available for the desperate 'fishermen'. When the story steps onto the Maersk Alabama, however, it understands its focus lies in the moral and ethical complications of its characters and forces the audience to see the villainy and threat represented by Muse and co while having a sense of their humanity.  There are very deliberate, smart moves here to avoid profiling a culture or painting these individuals as somehow unified in their reasons for being there.  In this respect, Captain Phillips manages to be oddly enlightening even as it succeeds in not apologizing, condoning, or otherwise pardoning the extreme actions of the pirates.  There's no gloss here, and the flat surface of the news story is given dimension by Tom Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi.
Hanks is better than he's been in several years, and as Phillips gives a solid, physical performance.  More than Hanks, though, it's perhaps Abdi who steals the show, and his skeletal frame and striking profile lend a curious sort of power to his portrayal.  So, all the pieces are where they should be...and that's all well and good.  Captain Phillips is a film that gets a lot of things right, but, still (and I'm quite serious about this), none of the many positives could stop my eyes from repeatedly closing during all the on-board tussles.  Once the initial tension of the boarding subsides, I was done with the arguments, struggles, and negotiating that just kept on keeping on.  It's pretty damn likely I'm a special case here, and I acknowledge that in full, but the action was thoroughly draining and repetitive.  Apart from a theoretical appreciation of its superficial differences, sensitivities, etc, it's difficult for me to truly read Captain Phillips as anything but more of the same.  I'd rather see a wholly fictionalized property with the same interests; something capable of opening up questions without the safety net of an understood, known conclusion.  It's a harrowing true story, but as a film, it's just another thriller; another piece of Oscar bait without any real creative ingenuity.

1 comment:

  1. This was a great movie. Tom Hanks
    was awesome in it. He should have gotten more credit for his role in
    this film. Great actor. The whole movie was intense, loved the story.
    Would highly recommend this film.

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