Adrenaline on the high seas

Within 10 minutes of screen time the Maersk Alabama is under siege, and the tension never really lets up

Tom Hanks stars in Captain Phillips, inspired by a true story.

Tom Hanks stars in Captain Phillips, inspired by a true story.

Crosscutting between two separate storylines may be an old device but it is used to great effect at the beginning of Captain Phillips, the adrenaline-charged true-life adventure that may earn Tom Hanks yet another Oscar for his mantelpiece. The film opens on the eponymous captain, played by Hanks, as he prepares to leave for the airport to fly from the United States to the Arabian Peninsula to shepherd a giant cargo ship south around the Horn of Africa. We cut from this decent family man to a sand-blown village somewhere in Somalia, where a rag-tag group of underfed young men is bullied into heading out to sea to bring in another “harvest.” But these guys are pirates armed with AK-47s, and they hunt the many tanker ships that transit the waters off their coast.

Within 10 minutes of screen time the Maersk Alabama is under siege, and the tension never really lets up from that moment. After a brief confrontation the pirates board the unarmed vessel, and their leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), takes Phillips hostage.

What follows is mostly a full-on thriller, as the crew fights back in ingenious ways. Eventually the American navy is mobilized, sending warships and SEALs to help resolve this high-stakes standoff in international waters 145 miles from the Somali coast.

The film’s talented director, Paul Greengrass (United 93, Green Zone), has always been drawn to moral complexities, and what could have been just a genre film is also a thoughtful examination of our inter-connected world. He pairs off the two captains, finding surprising aspects of commonality between Phillips and Muse. He also displays empathy for these ignorant Somali gangsters, hapless

victims of a failed state who only took up piracy after their waters had been fished-out by international mega-trawlers.

Greengrass is the action stylist famous for the fast cutting and “shaky cam” visual panache of the last two Bourne movies. Although we get some of that here – and frequent scenes of shouting and frenzy as the undisciplined Somalis fear their dreams of millions of dollars in ransom money are unraveling – there is a stillness to some of the movie’s best moments, as Hanks and Abdi convey a full gamut of feelings with just their faces. And the film’s final scene portrays an emotional meltdown whose rawness might just sear your nerve endings.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS ****

continues at the Odeon, SilverCity, Empire Uni 4, & Westshore.

COMING SOON:

Nebraska

The great director Alexander Payne (About Schmidt) is back on the road with a drama about an alcoholic sliding towards senility (Bruce Dern, who won Best Actor at Cannes this year) who is travelling with his estranged son (Will Forte) to collect a $1 million sweepstakes prize.

Fifth Estate

Few films have generated the pre-release buzz of this portrait of Julian Assange, whose leaking of hundred of thousands of secret government documents created a storm of controversy that still continues. Starring the suddenly ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch, with a little help from Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, and David Thewlis.

All Is Lost

Cinema icon Robert Redford pulls off what is supposedly a one-man tour de force in this drama about a sailor struggling to survive a solo yacht voyage in the Indian Ocean that goes terribly awry.

12 Years A Slave

British director Steve McQueen (Hunger) travels to America to tell this harrowing – and much acclaimed – tale of a free black man in 1840s New York who was tricked and sold into slavery, where he suffered for 12 horrifying years. With Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Alfre Woodard.

The Counselor

Ridley Scott looks to be in fine form in this dark crime thriller about a lawyer who learns that it’s very dangerous to start dabbling in the drug trade. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Cormac McCarthy and starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz.

 

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