Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips (2013)

Pirates. They’re a popular topic for Hollywood nowadays; mainly thanks to Disney’s imagining of a rum-drinking Captain that speaks a bit like a Dickensian waif. Yes, that particular teet of revenue has been milked so much that the cow is now in a great degree of pain… but that won’t stop the merciless milkmaid (or milkmouse… as it’s Disney) from draining it further still! But the current film isn’t about those types of pirates. No, this is about real modern day pirates. The ones that manage to hijack huge trawlers using nothing more than a speedboat and some AK-47’s… Introducing Captain Phillips

I think the best send up of the popular depiction of pirates with the gritty real world situation comes courtesy of South Park. Whether you’re a fan or not, I urge you to look up the episode called Fatbeard, where Cartman wants to become a (Captain Jack-esque) pirate, so travels to Somalia – the “home of the pirates”. There he somehow manages to lead the Somalians into a successful pirating gambit. The ending is glibly funny, but the clever commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone is spot on. These pirates are impoverished and need to get by in some way or another. OneĀ line from Captain Phillips sums this up perfectly for me. When the pirate Captain Muse is quizzed why he doesn’t just do something honest with his life and choose a more honest vocation, he is met with “Maybe you have a choice in America, Irish. Maybe in America.”

Captain Phillips (2013)

But let’s rewind a bit. Captain Phillips is based on the true events surrounding the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama back in 2009 off the coast of Somalia. This freight ship was on a run from Oman to Kenya, delivering a cargo consisting mainly of food and water aid. The titular Captain (Tom Hanks) was charged with leading this vessel through one of the most notorious stretches of sea in the world, owing to the high incidence rate of pirate hijacking. It’ll therefore come as no co-incidence to learn that this film revolves around such an incident occurring when a group of four Somalians, led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) board the ship and take Captain Phillips (aka Irish to the Somalians) and his crew captive. This film recounts that and the ensuing events that unfold.

Let me be straight to the point: I loved Captain Phillips. Everything from the pacing, to the plot, to the acting was on top form. I think this is based on two big points: Tom Hanks’ lead acting (and a superb supporting cast, especially from Barkhad Abdi and Faysal Ahmed), and Paul Greengrass‘ knack for capturing the intensity and edge-of-your-seat tension from the director’s chair. Indeed, the tension truly is unrelenting. For a film that lasts over two hours there’s no letting up in the pace once the Alabama is charting its course through the ocean. I kept a bit of a blackout of the issues surrounding the real events to maintain the level of excitement for me, and it worked a charm.

Captain Phillips (2013)

As I mentioned, one of the true selling points of this film is Tom Hanks. I, like so many others, recognise Hanks as a formidable acting talent. Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Castaway… the man has done a lot of subliminal films in his career. I’d arguably put Captain Phillips right near the top of this roster. Hanks does a fantastic job of selling Phillips’ emotions over the course of the film. Indeed, his final scenes in the film are particularly harrowing and I defy you to not feel some modicum of emotion come over you. This is all due to Hanks. There’s no doubt in my mind.

However, don’t think the film is all “go USA!”, as it’s not. As I mentioned earlier, one of the quotes from the film about “maybe in America”, has stuck with me. This is because the film does a very good job of actually helping you to see what these pirates are fighting for: survival. They have bosses. They have bosses that won’t be happy unless they bring back millions of dollars in capital. These millions feed back to the warlords – not the pirates. The pirates get their paltry sum and must carry on doing this again and again. Just as you or I go to work on a daily basis in our offices and sites, they don’t. They take to the seas. This is where Abdi‘s performance comes to the fore as you can see the pain behind his eyes and you understand why he must go through with the events that unfold in the film. He has no choice.

Captain Phillips (2013)

So: the acting is fantastic, across the board. But the tension and writing keep pace with this most admirably. You could draw vague comparisons between this and films like Zero Dark Thirty or The Bourne Ultimatum, as both of those deal with similar degrees of tension. Arguably, I’d say that Captain Phillips is far more engrossing than either of those films, and I would be surprised if we didn’t see some Oscar nods come early next year. I truly hope we see something here, because if not that’ll genuinely be a tragedy. If Zero Dark Thirty can get plaudits, then so should Captain Phillips.

Captain Phillips is that rare beast: a biopic that has it all. With its ferociously enthralling story, superb characterisation and sterling across-the-board acting, it’s a film that deserves to be seen. Although controversy has recently arisen as to how like the real Captain Phillips Tom Hanks‘ character has been written, it’s nevertheless fantastic. Praise has rightly been steeped upon Hanks himself, although it must be mentioned that all players contribute to this exciting film.

I think I’d rather watch more movies like this than have to endure more hammy Captain Jack Sparrow films, although they’re inevitably incoming in the near future. Yes, that cow will die eventually from an overmilked teet: a savage death. Though there are worse ways to go, I’d imagine. Hell, I empathise more with genuine Somalian pirates than I do a guy that romps around in mascara, rambling on about rum… Who wouldn’t?!

Phage Factor

5 Star

Film Phage's Quarantine Award

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Mud (2013)

Mud (2013)

I like it when an actor blindsides you with a performance you really weren’t expecting. Especially when they’ve been somewhat typecast in previous movies. Sure, you might be able to identify the odd movie they had that was a break from the norm, before they reverted back to their “type”. And actors sure do love playing up to their “type”! I don’t think we’ll be seeing Dwayne Johnson playing a hopeless romantic any time soon… unless his romance is between him and a free weights section at the gym. Conversely, you’ve got someone like Channing Tatum – a guy that’s willing to experiment with his roles, which has led to some startlingly good performances where he doesn’t just dance around the screen… But all of this pales in comparison to a performance from 2012 by one Matthew McConaughey. That film was Killer Joe. His new film promised more of the same: a break from “type”, but did Mud deliver?

Hey Joe!

Hey Joe!

I must say that Mud came at me from under the radar. I had no hype for it and it honestly wasn’t even pushed very hard in the UK. If I’m honest, I only became aware of it thanks to Keith over at Keith & The Movies putting it as his “most anticipated” movie of 2013. This guaranteed I had to go out and see it when it hit the UK… and it’s now hit. In an extremely limited release! Coming off the back of a disappointing The Place Beyond The Pines, I was eager to see a movie that lived up to my expectations from its protagonists. Well, Mud did at least achieve that… but just didn’t hit all the high notes I was expecting.

Mud is the tale of two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who are growing up in the river communities of Alabama. Life’s pretty boring, but they love to explore, so they think all their dreams have come true when they find a boat lodged in a tree following a flood – their own private hangout. But the boat’s not entirely unoccupied. It’s here that they encounter the eponymous Mud (Matthew McConaughey) – he’s homeless, but don’t call him a hobo. What unfolds is Mud’s tale of why he is where he is – he’s murdered someone for treating his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) in a terrible manner. He’s on the run, and not just from the police, but from the dead guy’s family too… And our two young leads become embroiled in proceedings.

Mud (2013)

Let’s start off with what I really enjoyed about the movie, and that’s the acting. I felt that every actor was really pulling their weight here. A lot of credit has to go to Tye Sheridan for carrying the movie so well on his young shoulders. He really had to run the gamut of emotions in this movie and really captured the frustrations of being at that age – dealing with the confusing Mud situation and dealing with those pesky “love” emotions. Similarly, Jacob Lofland was ably suited to his role too; providing much of the comic relief in the movie. Not that there were laughs galore to be had, but he broke the tension well. But this is Matthew McConaughey‘s movie, yet again. His character, Mud, is a mysterious one. And thankfully it’s one that doesn’t rely on getting his top off (all the time… it does happen though), or smiling at the camera as McConaughey is so accustomed to. I’d argue that his performance here isn’t as startling as that of Killer Joe, or indeed A Time To Kill, but it’s still resoundingly strong. And before I leave this little “acting love-in”… Reese Witherspoon? Who’d have expected her to be doing some genuine acting too!?

The other thing I loved about the movie is it all just “fit” into place. It didn’t seem like a movie – it was like the cameras turned up and just captured the everyday lives of its inhabitants as they were. It’s hard to put this into words to accurately convey the feeling I had here, but the cinematography and direction by Jeff Nichols was suitably apt.

Mud (2013)

However, the film isn’t without its problems – crucially in pacing. The movie does drag its heels at several occasions and the film doesn’t need to be over two hours long. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It seems like the constant “fetch quests” that the boys went on carried on for far too long. This gave the impression that the film was somewhat directionless, as you couldn’t really see any plot progression aside from the fact that you wondered what was going to happen to McConaughey‘s character… at some point. All of this changed dramatically in the final 30 minutes, which was choc-full of action and drama. But for me, it was a case of “too little, too late”. The plotting was there, the script was there and the acting was definitely there. It’s just a shame the film became a little too enraptured with itself to really steam along at a brisk enough pace. Don’t get me wrong, I can do slow and lingering, but there’s a limit on this. Unfortunately, Mud went past that point.

Mud is another star turn for Matthew McConaughey, who’s picked up something of a habit of taking roles you wouldn’t have assigned to him half a decade ago. Whilst I wasn’t as blown away by Mud as I was by Joe in Killer Joe, this can still be classified as a success for him. Similarly, I want to see more from Tye Sheridan in the future. The kid’s got talent and I’m keen to see where he goes next. Unfortunately, the film trips itself up with its rather slow pacing, which makes the second act drag to an alarming degree. So, ultimately, Mud‘s a solid movie, but isn’t one I’d rush out to see again any time soon.

Why don’t more actors follow Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum? Take some of those wild and whacky roles. Take a risk! I want to see Megan Fox in a cerebral thriller about feminism, I want to see Tommy Lee Jones doing some slapstick comedy opposite Rob Schneider and I want to see Samuel L. Jackson… erm… what genre hasn’t this guy done!? OK, perhaps everyone should follow Jackson‘s lead and not the others’. Then they can all star in such fabulous movies as Snakes on a Plane, The Spirit and Deep Blue Sea… oh, wait…

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star