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. One¬†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

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

“The name’s Bond, James Bo-… it isn’t? Ethan Hunt? No? Well, I must be Jason Bourne then right? I’m so forgetful – you know, with the whole amnesiac assassin thing I have going on… What? I’m… Aaron Cross?! Who?” Life as a government trained agent can be terribly hard on the old grey matter. With so many franchises and names bounding around, you’ve got to feel for a character like Aaron Cross; being up against some of the biggest, brightest and down-right bad ass(est) in the field. So with Cross picking up the mantle from Bourne in The Bourne Legacy can he deliver where it matters… even if he didn’t get his desired title of The Cross Conundrum?

Hunt, Bond, Bourne and Cross. Pick your hero.

The Bourne Legacy, in case your grey matter has also been taxed too hard, is the fourth installment in the “Bourne…” franchise of films. The original trilogy, starring Matt Damon, was loosely based on a set of books from the 1980s by Robert Ludlum. The Bourne Legacy takes its title from the fourth book, which isn’t written by Ludlum, and… has nothing else in common with the book. The film is set chronologically alongside the events of The Bourne Ultimatum and follows a new agent: Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who much like Bourne, enjoys successfully running away from the CIA. With this being a thriller, and my oath to the Nine Realms, that’s all I’ll reveal of the plot, but I’m sure you know the premise after three blockbuster movies!

Let me make one thing clear from the get go: I never worshipped at the altar of Bourne. Perhaps it all went wrong with me watching The Bourne Supremacy before any other of the movies. Sure, it was glitzy, the action was frenzied and Matt Damon was brutal, but it lacked soul for me. Does this hinder your enjoyment of this fourth installment? Well, yes and no. If you’re not familiar with certain key terms such as “Treadstone” and “Blackbriar”, or the premise behind the initial trilogy then the first 45 minutes will be very tough for you. The film doesn’t like to dwell on the past. I understand the need to “get on with the show”, but if The Avengers can summarise a whole five other movies and back-stories so¬†seamlessly, then it’s not¬†infeasible. Even though I knew what these terms meant, that opening act left me feeling cold and somewhat lost. It’s like I’d fallen asleep in the trailers and woken up midway into a film. It was jarring, and not at all helpful. Not a great start.

Hawkeye switches arrows for good old bullets.

That being said, there is much to enjoy in this movie once you’ve picked up the premise and Jeremy Renner has had a shave (you’ll see what I mean). What ensues is an international game of cat and mouse filled with great action sequences and a constant degree of suspense. Maybe not as much as one would hope for, but enough to sate the appetite. In typical thriller fashion, these events clearly lead to a¬†crescendo… a climactic end sequence… the money job. Whilst it was a thrilling ride, I can’t help but feel that writer and director Tony Gilroy had been watching a bit too much Terminator 2: Judgement Day, as it all came off a tad “invincible cyborg”. You could have switched Renner and “X” with Arnie and T-1000 and felt right at home, even down to “X”‘s origin story and lack of dialogue. Though this T-1000 is no-where near as menacing as Robert Patrick.

It was great to finally see Jeremy Renner¬†again taking the lead in a movie, after recently being locked in serviceable supporting slots in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Avengers. He’s deserved a chance to again take the leading role, and I’m glad it’s come. Alongside Hawkeye Renner in the top-billed cast is Rachael Weisz and¬†the old Hulk¬†Ed Norton as friend and foe respectively. Everyone’s acting is up to scratch, but no-one really excels. There’s no “wow” moment in terms of dialogue or manner of delivery. The film is carried along primarily by the action and the plot. After all, this is a Bourne… movie, so maybe witty monologues aren’t to be expected. That being said, there’s also no excuse for muddying the action scenes with such rabid editing, which made it difficult to discern what was going on on-screen. Just don’t expect such exquisitely shot fight scenes as in The Raid: Redemption¬†and you’ll be fine.

Hawkeye, for the love of God, don’t tell him you thought Mark Ruffalo was a better Bruce Banner… You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

One has to wonder whether this will be the last slice of Bourne we’ll be having at our cinemas. Sure, there are six more books, but as I mentioned – this film had nothing to do with the book, spare the title. And unless Universal can convince Paul Greengrass to return as director, we won’t be seeing Matt Damon return as Jason Bourne either.¬†So the future is somewhat open-ended for this universe. A universe I, as a non-avid fan, would be keen to return to.

Overall, The Bourne Legacy is a lot like Usain Bolt after stepping off a theme park ride and into a sprint: unstable on its feet for a while, but eventually gathers itself and tears along at pace. It’s a solid entry in the franchise, but is really hampered by that slow and meandering opening. Although I wouldn’t expect Gilroy to take the novice viewer by the hand for the initial 15 minutes, explaining previous plot points, I would expect more exposition to improve on that opening.

The beginning of Aaron Cross’ story is intriguing, but isn’t yet enough to cement him along the A list of on-screen agents. But thankfully, he’s not with the reject pile of Johnny English and those damn Spy Kids¬†either. But maybe I just prefer my agents to quaff shaken martinis, make sexual puns about “brushing up on a little Swede”… and lamentably parade around in Speedos, as he insists on doing in recent years.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star