Friday, November 22, 2013
The drought is over the deluge is about to begin. I've been out of theaters for almost a month and there is a ton of stuff to catch up with. Tonight I started back with a vengeance by seeing a really fine film with a couple of solid performances. Everybody already knows that this is a great film, so my comments will not be designed to convince anyone, they will merely be an attempt to explain what I admired about the film.
[ It is nearly midnight at the moment, so I will pause here and finish the post in the morning. If you come by and this abbreviated version is still here, please come back later tomorrow and I will have it complete]
There has been some controversy about this movie because several of the crew members have complained that Captain Phillips was largely responsible for the ship being in the wrong place. Plus, from their point of view he was a bit of an ass. The one thing I have not heard being disputed is that he was in fact taken aboard the lifeboat and he was threatened and beaten, and he was rescued in dramatic fashion by Navy Seals. I don't want anyone to think that I am confusing this with an historical document, it is a movie, but it sounds like the story largely got this right.Maybe Phillips sees things differently than the crew, but he wrote the book and the screenwriter has dramatized the events in a very effective manner.
Tom Hanks is excellent in the part. He plays Phillips as a hardworking professional who sometimes is not as relaxed as those around him. The captain of a ship probably can't be too casual, despite all we know about that job from watching "Love Boat". The sequence of events is not in dispute and it appears that the crew did all they could to keep the pirates from getting on board. The Mareck Alabama was not the first ship taken and it won't be the last unfortunately. I found the details in the way the crew tried to disable the ship and frustrate the pirates to be very interesting. Phillips is a part of that story because he is a central figure but the crew carried out the actions and they are the ones who turn the tables on the invaders when they were being hunted in the bowels of the ship. Dramatization keeps a lot of the story focused on the bridge and the dialogue may not always be authentic but the tone of danger almost certainly is accurate.
I don't think anyone seeing this will sympathize with the pirates too much. That is another criticism I have read. It is true that they are depicted as nearly being victims themselves, by the way their community is dominated by thugs who control through threats and violence. The situation in Somalia sounds and looks horrible, but they are all willing to take another persons life to gain wealth and tribal glory, so my sympathy is very limited. It is a brutal world out there, and choices have to be made, sometimes they are rotten choices but that does not mean you have to choose the path of self destruction. Everyone had opportunities to pick a different outcome, and they turned those opportunities down. The four actor who portray the pirates are apparently novices and were chosen for their heritage. Barkhad Abdi plays the leader Muse, a skinny man sometime ridiculed by his compatriots but a clever guy who makes the piracy even more dangerous. I thought his performance was exceptional coming as it does from a non-professional.
Hanks is the titular character but he is not always the hero of the story. When you witness the descent of the SEAL team from their planes to the ocean below, your confidence in the outcome goes way up. These guys don't mess around. They are serious and they do their jobs with such discipline that it is awe inspiring. For my money, the U.S.Navy is one of the best investments our country has made in trying to keep the world civilized and safe. It's not just the warriors that are admirable, the corpsman attending to Phillips after the raid was so professional that it was eery. She spoke exactly as I would want to be spoken to in that situation, with professional sympathy and reassurance. Another example of someone doing their job. In fact this whole film is about doing a job; ships captain, pirate, second in command, sharpshooter, negotiator. We know next to nothing about Phillips background and even less about everyone else. We know what they do, and how well they perform their job. That is maybe the real heart of the film.
Doing the job he does best is Mr. Hanks. He adopts a New England accent and it sounded authentic to my ears. He looks frightened at the appropriate times and his manner with the crew came across as realistic. The biggest praise for his performance will probably be based on the scenes immediately following the SEAL assault. He does indulge in a bit of his crutch facial yawning and soundless utterances, you will see that in a lot of his roles, but he played the most realistic depiction of shock I have seen. It is understandable how the trauma of the two days as captive and the bloody rescue could put someone in that condition. My understanding is that Hanks improvised a lot of that scene and if he gets nominated or even wins for this role, he should be sure to thank himself.