RATING: ★★ (2/4)
Captain Phillips, which chronicles the 2009 Somali pirate hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, is one of the year’s most underachieving films. While Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan) delivers a solid performance, he is unable to salvage the movie from its conflicted, dysfunctional plot. Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) takes an exciting, true story and manages to serve up an absolute dud. His lack of direction paralyzes the film, leaving the audience unfulfilled, disappointed and wanting more.
Unlike its cinematic cousin Black Hawk Down, which unequivocally took a pro-American stance in the U.S.-Somali conflict of the 1990s, Captain Phillips is corrupted by an effort to remain politically correct. Greengrass first introduces us to Captain Rich Phillips (played by Hanks), a hard-working northerner who takes his job of protecting his ship’s crew and cargo quite seriously. At the same time, he takes the audience into the anarchist world of Somalia, constantly reiterating the fact that the pirates are merely fisherman forced to use violence to provide for their families. Greengrass remains insistent on maintaining these two unique perspectives, both of which go underdeveloped under the confines of a two-hour film.
While I would not say that Captain Phillips is an anti-American movie, Greengrass certainly gives the film a questionable vibe with his foolish balancing act. By constantly shifting perspectives, the movie is unable to evoke any genuine emotion from the audience, a shame given the tragic nature of the story. Literally, as the film builds toward its climax of the SEALs rescuing Phillips, Greengrass fosters an atmosphere where the audience is inclined to feel sorry for the pirates. Perhaps he should have taken a page out of Clint Eastwood’s book, who depicted the Battle of Iwo Jima from both the American and Japanese perspectives, yet in two separate films (Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima).
The film’s quest to remain politically correct unfortunately creates two distinct narratives which ultimately fail to come together in a meaningful way. What compounds this glaring problem within the plot’s structure is how Greengrass unnecessarily simplifies and limits the realm of the story, with roughly half of the film focusing on Phillips being stranded in the lifeboat with the four pirates. For example, the dynamic provided by the supporting cast of Phillips’s wife and fellow crew members, although initially developed, is abruptly eliminated midway through the film.
Given that we all know Phillips is eventually saved, the movie should have expounded more upon the logistical/military effort behind the rescue, which was genuinely a remarkable feat. Instead, the movie incessantly focuses on the interaction Phillips has with the pirates, which confines the audience in a lifeboat of boredom. Zero Dark Thirty is an excellent example of a film that is able to build enormous suspense despite being burdened with an audience that from the beginning knows the ultimate outcome.
Although blessed with a talented lead actor and an intriguing story, Captain Phillips quickly becomes stagnant as a result of its conflicting narratives, not to mention Greengrass’s choppy directing. What initially may seem like an inspiring story of triumph is actually a bizarre, diluted film constricted by political correctness. When compared to the aforementioned movies Black Hawk Down and Zero Dark Thirty, seeing Captain Phillips is equivalent to ordering off the kids menu: boring, simplistic and devoid of meaningful substance.
Check out the trailer here!