Paul Greengrass has thread the needle with Captain Phillips. The director has achieved box office successes with his Bourne movies (Supremacy and Ultimatum), but with this film he is able to incorporate his “you are there” faux-documentary approach to a real life story in a way that was appealing to the masses. Perhaps it helps that Tom Hanks is his star, as there is no greater everyman working in cinema today. My review of Captain Phillips on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Richard Phillips (Hanks) starts the film heading out to pilot his vessel. He’s in charge of the Maersk, with his trip set to travel near Somali, which is known as pirate waters. In Somali, the young Muse (Oscar Nominee Barkhad Abdi) is tasked with taking a ship for the millions its worth, and assembles a crew of three others to work with him. Phillips is something of a perfectionist, and his crew don’t seem that fond of his desire for tighter security, but then the worst happens when Muse and his crew approach his boat. They are able to fend off the pirates for a while, but eventually the pirates board the Maersk, and take Phillips hostage. He’s able to get them off the ship, but is taken prisoner, and then the American government gets involved.
As is often the case with Greengrass films, the movie starts slow as it puts its pieces into place. Things seem to be going normally, and we sink into the rhythms of it, but the inevitable is approaching. Once the threat becomes real his technique helps makes everything that occurs especially tense. Greengrass avoids the clichés of genre by placing the audience in the middle of it, and there’s a sense that standard action dramatic arcs — or any familiar movie trappings – will only happen if they actually did. But Phillips – as played by Hanks – is not an action hero, he’s a man in a bad situation dealing with it as best he can, and trying to keep the violence to a minimum.
Phillips is the main focus, but it’s easy to see why Abdi was Oscar nominated (even if Hanks was not). Abdi is the other lead, the antagonist, and though he’s a man of violence, there’s also a sense that he’s a man of principle, and not entirely a bad person, just someone locked into a world he can’t escape, where there’s no fighting against the warlords that control his region, and who is rightfully suspicious of Phillips’ outwardly friendly persona.
Even if you know how the real life events unfolded, once the military show up it becomes a question of how many people are going to die, which creates a different tension, and though there may be some unsavory politics to what happens, it’s on the viewer to interpret the events and their ramifications. This opens the film and its makers up to greater questions about the truth, but as a contained piece, it’s stunning.
Hanks is on point throughout, though the role isn’t that showy, at least until the final sequence of the movie. After the events occur, Hanks gets to have a scene unlike any other in cinema, as his character is finally able to process what he’s been through, and it results in a sort of shutdown. Greengrass and Hanks said this sequence was an afterthought, but it’s also the moment that makes the movie, and provides one of Hanks’ finest performances on screen. The actor may have won numerous awards at this point, but this is one of his finest achievements. It’s an all-timer sequence in an otherwise pretty great film.
Sony’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with a DVD and digital copy. The transfer was mastered in 4K, and it shows. The sound and vision on this one make it demo-disc worthy. The film comes with a commentary by Greengrass, and though he often gets swept up in the moment and offers his perspective on the events, he’s a solid commentator, and does a good job walking through the film. Also included is a making of by David Prior, one of the best supplemental producers in the business, and his three part making of (58 min.) gets great stories out of its cast and crew on the making of the film.