Monday, October 14, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK/OSCAR WATCH: Captain Phillips


This week brought yet another Oscar contender to table, in the form of Paul Greengrass' "Captain Phillips". Based on a true story, it recounts the hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates. As tensions mount after this ambush, the titular captain (Tom Hanks) must use all of his wits to protect his crew from this band of pirates and their fearsome leader Muse(Barkhad Abdi).
Much of the film is focused on this power struggle between Muse and Captain Phillips and it's a compelling one at that. Hanks and Abdi are superb in their portrayals, never losing sight of their characters' individual realities. Not once do you feel like the plot or dialogue has been embellished for dramatic purposes. There's not a false note in the entire film. Neither actor uses showboating acting methods, captivating the audience instead with empathetic performances of surprising vulnerability. Hanks in particular gives an accomplished display, underplaying the heroism to give it that everyman quality that we've come to love from him. This is a slightly different version though. Throughout his career his acting has often felt "young" (or at least younger than he is), but here he fully embraces the experienced confidence of the character. It's almost like we're seeing a new movie star emerge in front of our eyes.
On the other hand, a truly new actor is presented in Abdi. In his first ever film role, he gives it a fearless authenticity that's effectively unrefined. His dialogue scenes sometimes show his inexperience, but there's no denying his natural ability. Especially in his quieter moments, he successfully conveys a man who is constantly thinking (whether it be worrying, planning or simply contemplating).
These two characters are the foundation for the story and my, what a story it is. This is a plot that is deceptively simple. Yes, the trajectory of events is nothing special, but the screenwriting between start and finish is remarkable. There's a high level of difficulty here, as it requires a great deal of narrative interest to keep the audience engaged. The screenplay accomplishes this perfectly, sustaining a powerful forward momentum from the time the hijacking occurs. It's truly a masterclass of writing and editing, as it breezes through the 134 minute run time without a single dull moment. It's efficient storytelling, eschewing unrealistic monologues and lengthy exposition, yet still supplying ample thematic and character depth. Indeed, the characters' casual anecdotal remarks provide more satisfying background information than some prequel films.
Of course, Paul Greengrass makes a major contribution too, as he firmly puts his stamp on the material. Throughout the film, it plays distinctly like an action-thriller, which is all due to his direction. The big moments (hijacking, escape attempts, rescue attempts) have an undeniable kinetic energy that's usually reserved for more overt action or thriller films. Such is the palpable sense of urgency that you may even begin to doubt your knowledge of the characters' fates, despite the real life evidence. It makes for an entertaining film, even though it sometimes clashes with the intimate nature of the story. The context unfortunately provides no big action setpieces to properly take advantage of his style. In truth, the setting and material seem to call for a more typical dramatic approach (a lot of it is even shot in closeup), so it slightly prevents the film from being as poignant as it ought to be.
All things considered though, the film that Greengrass set out to make is very respectable in its own right. It's highly proficient filmmaking that ticks all the boxes required for an entertaining cinematic experience. Biopics have never been so thrilling.

In terms of its Oscar prospects, I expect "Captain Phillips" to be major Oscar contender. It should have a healthy mix of nods in the "tech" and the higher profile categories. From an aural perspective, I expect nods for Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. In addition, the excellent pacing should easily garner a Best Editing nomination. Many pundits expect recognition for the cinematographer, but as I mentioned earlier the film doesn't have the scale to provide a large canvas. The memorable performances of Hanks and Abdi are likely to resonate with voters and I therefore expect nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Finally, I think the film should find a place among the nominees in the all-important categories of Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and of course, Best Picture. It will be interesting to see how much the Academy responds to this smartly constructed, yet mainstream crowd-pleaser.

8 comments:

  1. Great review. I loved this movie, and Hanks really blew me away!

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    1. Thanks, now you know why it should be in your Best Picture predictions!

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  2. Hanks will most likely get a nomination for this, and I have no objections whatsoever. He's good throughout the whole movie, but once those final few minutes happen, you look at his performance in a whole new light and you can't help but be awestruck by how much talent this guy has. Good review Shane.

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    1. Totally agree. I love how he lays out the character for maximum impact in the ending. Smart performance.

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  3. Yup, I definitely see this one getting some well deserved recognition come awards season, none more so than Tom Hanks. Incredible stuff on display here. Nice review. :)

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  4. There are a couple of minor quibbles I could raise but they'd be nothing compared to the overall greatness of this flick.

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