CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013, Paul Greengrass)
Let’s be clear — without Tom Hanks, this is a 5/10 at best. The opening sequence is dreadful — a drive to the airport with Captain Phillips’s wife, Captain Exposition (played by a wasted Catherine Keener) — and it doesn’t get much better when Phillips converses with his first mate about All the Things Aboard the Ship, then looks at a map that might as well say “In This Zone You Will Be Attacked By Somali Pirates, Right Here, See Where This X Is, That’s Dangerous, Look Out!”
But Tom Hanks IS in the film, and he’s fantastic. Most of the power of his performance comes in the last five minutes, and boy is it a doozy. It knocked me for such a loop that I’m basically setting aside all my reservations and recommending the film. It’s hard for me to ignore just how effective that last scene is, not just for Hanks’s performance but Greengrass’s laser-focused style. That style also comes through in a couple sequences earlier in the film — when the pirates first start approaching the boat and during the extended intensity of the raid. During these moments, the movie is all detail and action, free of political context or bad Billy Ray dialogue (he also co-wrote THE HUNGER GAMES, FLIGHTPLAN, COLOR OF NIGHT, and VOLCANO), and it’s pretty damn good.
But alas, live by the sword and die by it — the lack of political context in the good parts spills over into the lame ones, and because Greengrass isn’t concerned with much of a message (which is fine by itself), we’re left with a sagging second half that involves just watching things that happened. Editorializing would have at least given me something to do.