You can tell that Oscar season is well underway. Gone are the explosion-filled summer blockbusters, instead they are replaced by biopics and tense, super-serious films. Captain Phillips is a mixture of the two, telling the tale (based on a true story) of Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump), the captain of a US cargo ship travelling through Somalia as he and his crew are taken hostage by pirates.
Directed by Paul Greengrass, the same person who did the second and third Bourne films, it is clear that he is aiming for an Academy Award of some sorts, much along the same lines of last year’s Argo. The tension doesn’t let up for most of the film, as Phillips and his crew are captured by Somali pirates. These aren’t your traditional, “yo-ho me hearties”, Jack Sparrow-esque pirates. They are desperate, cold “businessmen”, led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi in a promising debut performance). Greengrass could have easily fallen into the trap of just portraying the pirates as a bunch of faceless, malevolent bad guys. But instead, he made them human and relatable, although not to the point where I could sympathise, but enough to convey their motivations. This was also done without any heavy exposition, allowing the audience to reach their own conclusion.
But the film would mean nothing if it wasn’t grounded by a decent central performance. Of course, Tom Hanks manages to bring this to the table; his Captain Phillips is a man struggling to keep his wits together in a hostage situation. But the pinnacle of this was his final scene, which was practically raw emotion. That scene made the entire journey as a spectator worth it, after the constant cranking of tension.
But, despite being constant, for me, the tension never reached that “on-the-edge-of-your-seat” level. This had the effect of sometimes making the film seem to drag, and would have probably benefitted from being made a little bit shorter. And thanks to the intense scrutiny of Phillips and Muse, some of the other characters get short-changed. I can hardly remember most of the American crew, and I would have loved to see more of the pirates.
After a just-over 2 hour spectacle, it is clear that Captain Phillips tries to be an Oscar contender. And on the acting side, it could well be, thanks to the two superb performances of Hanks and Abdi, But I doubt it will manage Best Picture, since it dragged out a little too long, but on the whole, it was well worth watching.