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January 26, 2014
The true story of Captain Phillips and the hijacking of his ship was, I’m sure, terrifying for him and his crew. In 2009, off the horn of Africa, Somalian pirates took command of and kidnapped Captain Phillips and his ship. The United States Navy and America’s attention was suddenly turned to piracy after much of the political attention was still focused on the al-Qaeda war on terror. The story was frightening and Phillips’ survival was enthralling, making it a great adaptation for a movie.

Paul Greengrass directs Tom Hanks as the title character Captain Phillips. Hanks’ portrayal of Phillips was fascinating and believable – what we’ve come to expect of his roles. But the most significant piece to “Captain Phillips” was, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Barkhad Abdi in his first role ever as the Somalian pirate, Muse, who leads the assault and kidnapping. Abdi’s acting was brilliant. He had a terrorizing sense about him and portrayed this weak and “skinny” character with great taste. Abdi was working as a chauffeur before being cast as this role, having left Somalia himself when he was seven and eventually moving to America. The acting between Hanks and Abdi kept the story moving forward. Their interactions were riveting and made you concerned for both characters.

The script may be the one thing better than the acting. From the very beginning, we see the differences between Phillips and Muse living out their everyday lives. Phillips leaves home with his wife en route to the airport talking about their kids, one already in college; overall quite well off and powerful. We meet Muse waking up in a tin and cardboard shack, constantly being called names and seeming weak and powerless. Of course, in any film with a singular major event, there was a lot of foreshadowing leading up to the hijacking; Phillips checking the barricades, the test drills and safety precautions. But the greatest aspect of this script was the overall theme, “Things will be ok.” This line was the one thing that kept turning up throughout the story. At the very beginning, while Phillips and his wife were discussing the difficulties their sons face in this changing and challenging world, he ends by saying that they’ll be ok, things will be ok. Once Muse gets Captain Phillips on the lifeboat and is planning his journey back to Somalia, he says three times to him at various points “everything’s gonna be ok.” This dialogue repetition keeps the audience engaged as they may believe it, but are not sure how things will be ok; how will Captain Phillips escape his kidnapping and get back to his family in Vermont.

Though this film has a fantastic story accompanied by incredible acting, I think it was given too much notoriety and was not worthy of a Best Picture nomination. A Best Picture film should encompass more of the picture than just the story and acting, though both are definitely amongst the most important. The directing was a little too similar to styles in Greengrass’ other films like “United 93” and the latter two “Bourne” films with Matt Damon. But the score is where the film really lost me. Henry Jackman wrote the score to “Captain Phillips” and you’ll be able to tell what else he’s worked on simply by listening to it. Right before the pirates attempt their first boarding, the music begins a distinct tapping that is most familiar with “The Dark Knight” and the Joker’s motif. Jackman worked with Hans Zimmer on the score to “The Dark Knight” so I’d be able to forgive the similarities saying it is Jackman’s style. However, there are also several other familiarities to Zimmer’s work throughout the score, especially in the very last scene sharing an almost verbatim sound to the last scene in “Inception”. Granted, these scores by Zimmer definitely stand out and were worthy of their nominations and popularity. But movies need to have more originality when it comes to their music, otherwise you simply get lost thinking about the other films that music belongs to.

“Captain Phillips” was definitely a very believable movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat and your hands clenched to your lips. But, I think too much attention was given to the film overall. I do not want to take away from his acting, though I wonder if the movie would have gotten as much regard if Barkhad Abdi had been acting or had any previous aspirations to be an actor. Nonetheless, he played the role very well and kept the story believable. It is a good and even great picture, but not worthy of a Best Picture nomination.

Ryan Schwalm

Author Ryan Schwalm

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