In the form of United 93 and Bourne Ultimatum, director Paul Greengrass has given us two of the best thrillers of the last decade. Captain Phillips is a very similar to United 93 in terms of style and treatment, whereby he takes some time to build the narrative but ends in a high. The difference though is here, we are dealing pirates instead of terrorists [yes, there’s a difference – one has fear of life, and the other doesn’t] and the story is set in a sea instead of air. Greengrass plays out patiently, even adding some comic relief in between, as he slowly gears up to a 30 minute edge of the seat climax. While in the process also ensuring that the human element and the emotional quotient of the story is not lost.
Based on true account of Somalian pirates hijacking an American cargo ship and then kidnapping its captain, Captain Phillips is precise in its approach and spell-bindingly built to culminate in grand finale. A splendid performance from Tom Hanks and a surprisingly great supporting turn from Barkhad Abdi, allows you not to lose focus even in the non-gripping moments of the film. For a story that is not complex in its structure or its theme, it was imperative that the film is told with tightly built narrative. And as necessitated, the movie doesn’t beat around the bush, and quickly comes to the subject matter its tackling. Though, the first half of the film isn’t as tense and gripping as second, which is not to say that first half isn’t interesting at all. It definitely is. Though as an audience you don’t feel as threatened for the protagonist initially, as you do later.
Comparisons could also be drawn to Zero Dark Thirty, specially in the manner in which the final 30 minutes play out, and involvement of SEAL in both the films. Both the films clearly bring out the technological superiority of both the American security forces and American films. Every shot, be it on the huge cargo ship or inside lifeboat, reeks authenticity. The visuals, especially of the night shots, are expertly crafted, and sound design is also pitch perfect. Expect the film to be a big player at the Oscars, since it will play extremely among older Academy audiences. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and many technical categories, all will be in play for this film.
Even with so many merits, I felt, it lacked the urgency which Greengrass displayed in United 93 or Bourne Ultimatum. Captain Phillips also doesn’t have the enormous scope or scale of Zero Dark Thirty and hence the culmination, even though similar in its execution, doesn’t feel as immensely satisfying as the latter. But Captain Phillips does score in its final moments conveying us how an emotionally shattered man doesn’t require medical attention as much as he requires a warm empathy or a loving embrace.