Oscar Nominations 7: Captain Phillips

A Hostile Takeover

By Adam Sturrock

Captain Phillips (2013)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writer: Billy Ray

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

Length: 134mins

Watching films such as Treasure Island and Pirates of the Caribbean to name a few, it would be safe to say that pirates don’t exist; they are an extinct race. Minus the parrot and the dodgy accents, the previous fact is actually false, especially near the African horn with Somalia being the main culprit. They aren’t after “chests of booty” but the blundering is still kept mainly intact as they traverse the Somali coast looking for trawler ships to hold for ransom. Back in 2009, a story that held the world hostage in its shock value was unfolding as an American captain was held by three Somalian pirates in a life boat. Based on these events, Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass, is a chronicle of the supposed actions that took place.

An intense, dramatic film that delves into the psychological and physical turmoil felt by Richard Philips, Tom Hanks excels, as he usually does in most roles, as the captain. Tasked with the job to transport a frigate from Oman to Mombassa, his ship is sieged by Somalian pirates looking for a quick cash-in ransom. From the offset, the film focuses directly on two people, the first being Captain Phillips, the second we will get back to later. The crew of the ship is immediately disregarded in this portrayal, with very few glimpses into their plight. The camerawork is often very up close and personal, trying to see the etched stress lines on Richard’s face and often, without speaking, we can see the emotions swirling up inside without much dialogue. One of the final scenes in the entire film is what makes or breaks Tom Hank’s chance for the best actor nomination. A deft choice by Greengrass to choose a real-life Navy marine allowed to Hank to widen his emotional range in the character and it is this moment that will make him the dark horse for an award.

Yet again, however, all eyes are not focusing on the leads this movie season, but actually on the powerful performances of the supporting actors. With the title of Captain Phillips suggesting the film will solely focus on him, Tom Hanks has truly had his thunder stolen from him by one of his fellow actors. The other half of the film, which I had previously left blank, is dominated by newcomer, Barkhad Abdi as the leader of his small crew, his diminutive stature looms over every cast member as if he is a veteran such as his gravitas. Without speaking, Abdi is intimidating and threatening; he looks well within his comfort zone. His entrance into moviegoer’s minds must be as spellbinding as it is frightening, upon meeting Tom Hanks as their respective characters, he improvises his lines with the look of a madman just grasping at sanity; eyes bulging out of their sockets. He doesn’t need to shout to strike fear into a scene and this natural acting ability is what’ll set him apart having already won a BAFTA for his performance. Flanked by three equally impressive Somalian actors, a resurgence of amazing African actors into cinema could be afoot, watch this space…

By having such a tight focus on these two actors, the film rarely deviates from this power struggle and this interpersonal relationship between the two and the camera is what propels the film forward. This is truly an exciting period for cinema at the Oscars as every category is accounted for and every film offers something different.

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