Saturday, July 26, 2014

Instant Action: Captain Phillips (2013)

Yet another reason why I stay on land!

Screenplay By: Billy Ray
Directed By: Paul Greengrass

I’ve been lukewarm on Paul Greengrass for most of his filmmaking career. At times his filmmaking can be exhilarating; BloodySunday, and United93. Just as often Mr. Greengrass’ filmmaking is pedestrian and subpar; TheBourne Supremacy, and TheBourne Ultimatum. Finding the middle ground between a traditional approach to filming and the Chaos Cinema approach is of the utmost importance in a Paul Greengrass film. When he falls prey to his desire to quick cut everything so that he removes any sense of place, time, or space in his action is when Mr. Greengrass is at his worst. He need not go full traditional in his filmmaking approach, but he must avoid the rabbit hole of Chaos Cinema.

Captain Phillips represents the middle ground, as Mr. Greengrass avoids quick edits and cuts in favor of shot composition that always expresses time and place. The ins and outs of the ship and lifeboat that make up almost all of Captain Phillips’ locations need to be understood by the audience. Mr. Greengrass stays out of trouble by focusing on where people are in relation to the vessel they are on at that given moment. Quick cuts and fast editing would have been extremely detrimental to a scene where we need to see a Somali pirate distracted by a noise and drawn away from one side of the ship.

Mr. Greengrass also trusts his actors implicitly in Captain Phillips. It helps when your lead is someone as dependably trustworthy as Tom Hanks. However, it’s in the supporting characters that Mr. Greengrass shows his trust. The temptation had to be present to rely on Mr. Hanks to carry the majority of the film. While it remains true that Mr. Hanks gives far and away the best performance in Captain Phillips, he doesn’t carry the film. Tense moments are dependent on the acting of the supporting cast. Important moments in the film are wholly on the shoulders of actors like Barkhad Abdirahman as Bilal. Mr. Greengrass doesn’t pull back from the supporting cast, he stays on them and allows for them to carry the majority of the weight of the film.

By avoiding fast cuts and editing the action in Captain Phillips carries an intensity it would otherwise lack. There’s nothing revolutionary about the action in Captain Phillips, but it gets the job done. I felt like I was being allowed an intimate portrait of men putting themselves in danger. A lot of this is achieved by the way Mr. Greengrass peppers the action throughout his film. It comes in spurts, and when it does come the action in Captain Phillips charges the film up to a near breaking point. Intensely intimate action isn’t easy to come by, and Captain Phillips delivers it in fine fashion.

There’s been some controversy around Captain Phillips and the legitimacy of its story. I’ll say this, I don’t care whether or not the story behind Captain Phillips is legitimate. What I care about is the end product that is the film and the level of quality it achieves. I can tell you that Captain Phillips is a darn great film, and that’s all it should be. Captain Phillips is a film, not a historical document, and as a film it’s an exciting jaunt.




Bill Thompson

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