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Captain Phillips (12A)
The Courthouse
14th October 2013


It may allegedly have more historical inaccuracies than Braveheart, but that doesn't stop Captain Phillips from being a well-paced, enjoyable thriller. Whatever the truth of the source material, it's undeniably gripping, the 134 minutes fly past.

The opening scenes are made up of long, mundane shots with minimal talking and low background noise. Tom Hanks, playing the title character Rich Phillips, is clearly anxious from the outset, and this air of worry creates a sense of foreboding. Director Paul Greengrass's Bourne films have demonstrated his knack for high-octane action - but usually as an explosive payoff coming after a prolonged period of unbearable tension. It's no different here.

As we follow Hanks around his ship before the pirate attack, the sense of claustrophobia heightens and we get the impression he's being stalked by his fears as well as us. Given we're all now familar with the outcome (how could the real Captain Phillips have sold his story if he hadn't survived?) filling the first half hour with as much anticipation as possible is a smart - if not unpredictable - move from Greengrass. Yet it's not just this - his background in journalism and World In Action are also front and centre, with this film all desaturated colour for an added grit and realism.

When the action finally kicks off, his usual liberal use of shakycam filming is in complete contrast to what has gone on before, ramping up the adrenaline. It's a reasonably tense thriller - we weren't quite on the edge of our seats as we were for Argo - but it's not for everyone. If you find the motion of typical found footage movies hard to deal with, you'll struggle with this. The jitteriness doesn't last forever, but there's enough of it to ruin the experience for some.

Rich, his number two Shane Murphy (Michael Chernus) and Chief Engineer Mike Perry (David Warshofsky) are all depicted as heroes. Rich is anxious, but somewhat resigned, having believed an attack was inevitable at some point. Shane is the most emotional out of the trio, his actions are taken out of a raw desire to protect his crew. Mike is far more measured, he doesn't get in on the action because of mere sentiment, it's because he's the most qualified to assist and he knows it. Mike understands his ship better than anyone, and he calmly slips into saboteur mode without a fuss.

As for the Somali pirates, the actors are newcomers to Hollywood, but all put in excellent performances. The cat-and-mouse game between Rich and Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is enthralling, and a human aspect is kept by the inclusion of Bilal (Barkad Abdirahman), who is the youngest and most naive. The other two, Najee (Faysal Ahmed) and Elmi (Mahat M Ali) are hateful, but a tiny part of us feels Bilal has been caught up in piracy through circumstance, through lack of choice - the others have chosen to become what they are. The best kind of film enemy is one where you can see a glimmer of redemption; Billy Ray's screenplay makes sure we have a moment of empathy with the 'wrong side', even if it's just a fleeting crisis.

It would be surprising if Hanks doesn't pick up some round of awards for this film - as per usual he puts in a fantastic performance. And Catherine Keener is always a welcome addition to any cast.

While this might not be as polished as Argo (the comparisons are inevitable), Greengrass's style is engaging and very different to Ben Affleck's - less Hollywood classicism and more in-your-face stylised realism. It fits the story beautifully and the acting is absolutely first class. Non-disclosure agreements have apparently been signed in relation to the real-life tale, so the truth may never out - but this fiction is worth seeing.

Captain Phillips was released in the UK on 18th October 2013.

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