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February 4, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Captain Phillips (2013)

by NIR SHALEV

Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is tasked with helming the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, a huge cargo ship, from point A to point B through the Indian Ocean. However, Somali pirates target the vessel and board it, roughly 145 miles off the Somali coast. We then meet Muse (Arkhad Abdi): lean, mean, and packing an AK-47 just like the three other pirates. He’s their captain and he has it in for Phillips.

What ensues on the ship is a suspenseful albeit entertaining game of mental chess. Phillips relays messages to his seemingly non-existent crew whenever he can just so that the pirates won’t find them, and the pirates do their best to maintain their composure. I was reminded of ghosts playing tricks on people in haunted houses- Phillips warns a bare footed pirate that he could “cut himself on anything,” and a few compartments later, broken glass is splayed on the floor, mysteriously, cutting that pirate up real good. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I found it funny. Regardless, that style of cat and mouse chess playing exists for a good 35-40 minutes, delivering an exceptionally well paced, well acted, and well written scenario.

However, about half way through the film it shifts from being really awesome to just being really good. I found the second half of the film mostly interesting, but it never managed to truly enrapture me. I was never disinterested, but the happenings didn’t live up to the scenario previously depicted aboard the Alabama.

Hanks delivers a terrific performance, filled with realism and humanity. We feel that his Captain Phillips is a person, and not an actor portraying a character. And Abdi had recently received an Oscar nomination for his terrific, often terrifying and continually engaging performance. Those two performances are thoroughly powerfully convincing and are singlehandedly responsible for elevating the second half of the film from “simply coasting” to “interesting”.

I hadn’t read any of the books that the Alabama Hijacking is based on and I don’t know what really happened on or off that ship; I don’t know whether Captain Phillips was, in actuality more or less heroic in real life. But what I do know is that happenings took place in 2009 (as I recall from the TV news reports) and that the Alabama is the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years. Knowing that, I believe that this film’s version of Captain Richard Phillips did a pretty good job all the way through and, honestly, the best that he really could.

The special features are an Audio Commentary; Capturing Captain Phillips; and previews.

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