Captain Phillips

Welcome back to our occasional feature in which we review a film frustratingly close to the end of its cinematic run – today, Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass. The titular captain (Tom Hanks) must defend his crew when Somali pirates board his cargo ship and threaten a hostage situation. Let’s call it Arrrgo.

Captain Phillips

Similarities to this year’s excellent A Hijacking cannot be ignored and it’s interesting to see how the same story can be told in entirely different ways – A Hijacking is a very Scandinavian drama while Captain Phillips is a very American actioner; the former painstakingly slow, the latter rip-roaringly pacey. But both are brilliantly effective on their own terms. They’re also both deeply political but in quite different ways.

A Hijacking criticises institutions and corporations, juxtaposing the terror of life aboard the ship with the clinical office environment of the money-men back home, as they literally calculate the monetary value of human life. Captain Phillips initially seems to be making a similar comment on globalisation and capitalism, touching upon the ruthless conditions of the pirates and sensitively humanising them.


However, the film sadly descends into American propaganda (yes I know Greengrass is British). The Navy are reverentially represented as a deeply compassionate and efficient institution – a representation quite unlike that of The Bedford Incident. With its “don’t mess with America” attitude, this film will sail to victory at the Oscars.

Politics aside, this is a superb action film grounded (watered?) by Tom Hanks, who always manages to convince as an everyman in spite of being one of the most famous people in the world. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi stands out as the leader of the pirates, the tension between the two ramped up by Greengrass’ decision to keep them separate on set.

His trademark shaky-cam makes sense here because we’re at sea, but has apparently left some viewers feeling sea-sick. Similar reports have come through regarding Gravity, but Captain Phillips has a constant nail-biting tension lacking from Gravity.

Captain Phillips is brilliantly acted and directed, making it a good companion piece to A Hijacking. But with its military hero-worship and watery flag-waving, the film this most clearly resembles is Battleship Potemkin.

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