by Julian Spivey
Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” based on the true story of Capt. Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, is one of the most intense and dramatic films of the year and features an extremely emotional performance by multiple time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks.
The film, written by Billy Ray and based off of the real Capt. Phillips’ book “A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea," is the way a great biopic should be done. It captures everything about the real life story in a way that almost puts you in Capt. Phillips’ shoes and does so without really making anybody overly heroic (although both Capt. Phillips and the Navy SEALS on and off the screen certainly are). It just lays the story out how it was (with the obvious dramatic embellishments you’re naturally going to get from a film) with both Capt. Phillips and the Navy SEALS tasked with rescuing him from the Somali pirates simply doing their jobs.
The cramped spaces of the Maersk Alabama ship and especially the lifeboat, in which Capt. Phillips and the Somali pirates spend a good deal of the movie’s second half in, help to give the film its intense feel and Greengrass is certainly no stranger to the art of making tight spaces feel even tighter than they really are having previously directed the similar themed “United 93,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar as best director. It’s a possibility Greengrass could receive another nomination for “Captain Phillips,” but a best picture nomination (something “United 93” didn’t receive) is actually more likely.
The true highlight of “Captain Phillips” is the incredibly emotional and affecting performances by Hanks in the lead role and previous unknown (and non-actor) Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse the leader of the band of Somali pirates who hijack the Maersk Alabama.
Abdi, along with other previous non-actors Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali, all do a superb job as the Somali captors despite having no previous acting experience. Abdi is the one who truly gets the chance to shine, though, in the film as the group’s ringleader and captures incredibly all of the emotions his character feels whether it’s his sheer determination or the occasional fear and insecurity that seeps into him at times. Screenwriter Ray and Abdi both enforce that Muse is not just your run-of-the-mill bad guy, but a man conflicted and in a tight spot wanting to better his life the best way he knows how. Abdi is likely to go from non-actor to Academy Award-nominated actor in just a short amount of time as a best supporting actor nomination is likely coming his way and rightfully so.
Speaking of Academy Awards, it’s almost hard to believe that it’s been a dozen years since Tom Hanks was last nominated for an Oscar for his role in Robert Zemeckis’ 2001 film “Cast Away.” It’s almost been a full two decades since his last of two best actor Oscar wins for “Forrest Gump” (he won his first for “Philadelphia”). It’s going to be a tough task breaking into the best actor Oscar field this year with a ton of truly fantastic performances already featured and more to come as we’ve just entered “awards season,” but a non-nomination for Hanks for his harrowing performance as Capt. Phillips would definitely qualify as a major snub.
Capt. Phillips is likely Hanks’ best role in more than 10 years and the immensely popular thespian certainly hasn’t lost any of that excellence that once won him back-to-back Oscars. Hanks’ everyman qualities as an actor play perfectly here as Phillips, who was seemingly an everyman ship captain. Hanks is one of the biggest movie stars to ever grace the cinematic screen and yet so effortlessly makes you forget he’s acting by absolutely encompassing his role. He’s everything that’s needed as Phillips — simple, thoughtful, stoic, staunch, smart and at times sarcastically witty.
The true tour de force of Hanks’ performance though comes in his very last scene after he’s been rescued from the pirates by the Navy SEALS (not a spoiler; this just happened in real life four years ago and was major news) when he’s being checked over by a Navy medic. In this scene, which was unbelievably improvised by Hanks, Capt. Phillips is simply able to let go of all of the feelings (fear, desperation, etc.) he was forced to keep pent up during the whole ordeal and they all shoot out of him at once like an erupting volcano. It’s a scene that, although it may sound absurd knowing his incredible body of work, is likely the best bit of acting in Hanks’ career … and again it was all created by him on the spot and unscripted.
Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors the art form of film has ever seen and when his career is all said and done and people compile lists of his five best performances, this one will be in that canon.
“Captain Phillips” is truly one of the must-see films of 2013 thanks to its powerful performances and edge of your seat intensity that will leave you entertained and nerve-wracked throughout its two hour and 14 minute runtime.
by Julian Spivey
With “Rush,” director Ron Howard has done something that you don’t see too often on film … he has captured sports rivalry so well and uniquely that you come out of the film not rooting for one of the rivals over the other; but merely marveling at the intensity and relationship between the two.
This makes “Rush” unique because it seems that most sports films play up a good guy versus bad guy scenario and in “Rush” Chris Hemsworth’s brash, British party boy Formula 1 driver James Hunt easily could have been the bad guy or villain to Daniel Bruhl’s ever-serious, scientific in his passion German driver Niki Lauda.
But, Ron Howard and mostly screenwriter Peter Morgan, who’s responsible for many of the finest movies featuring British personalities of the last few years (“The Queen,” “The Damned United” and his previous matchup with Howard, “Frost/Nixon”), thankfully realized that there are two sides to every rivalry and while those two sides are often going to be incredibly different and neither person may see eye to eye, as with Hunt and Lauda, it doesn’t necessarily mean somebody has to be good and bad.
It is this distinguishing factor of the film that truly makes it great. It makes it more than your typical or stereotypical sports movie and turns it into basically a character study of two guys striving for the same goal in immensely different fashions.
Bruhl is a relative newcomer to American audiences and his role here as Lauda and his raved about upcoming role in “The Fifth Estate” are sure to put him on the map. He seems fully immersed in his role as Lauda bringing the determined German racer to the screen in a way that gives him a blue collar working man’s mentality with a mathematician/scientific way of thinking that allows him to capture every last bit of speed from his Ferarri. It’s Lauda’s drive that makes him admirable and Bruhl performs that effortlessly. It’s likely not a performance that’s going to see the newcomer earn Oscar-nomination praise, especially in what seems to be a jam-packed year of award-worthy performances, but it is a performance that is certainly worthy of much praise.
As for Hemsworth, an actor that is certainly known in America thanks to his role as Thor in the Marvel comic book movies, but nevertheless is an actor that I remained unfamiliar with, also shines in his performance as the playboy Hunt. Hunt loves to party hard, carouse with women and always has a mischievous smile strewn across his face. He is the type of person they talk about when they say “live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse” and he is the antithesis of Lauda.
It is this contraposition of characters that make this, and almost every real life or movie (in this case both), rivalry so utterly fascinating to watch. Some people might come into “Rush” hoping to see a high-flying action film (which it gives the audience in its racing scenes), but they are going to come away having seen one of the best representations of rivalry that any recent movie has given us and most sports movies prove inadequate at by not showing both sides.
“Rush” is Ron Howard’s most impressive film since he and Morgan last teamed up for the Oscar-nominated “Frost/Nixon.” It is a film that obviously knows its characters and gets inside of their heads to show us their passion and their drive for what they do. Any film essentially about daredevils who risk their lives every single time they strap into their cars and put their helmets on to do business at over 200 miles per hour must give us that insight to truly be great. Most films of the like just give us the high flying action, but “Rush” takes the opportunity to go deeper and ultimately takes the checkered flag because of it.