Ladies and gentlemen, mark this down: Captain Phillips is the best movie I've seen so far this year"”even after seeing Gravity, the extraordinarily grand-looking film by Alfonso CuarÃ³n.
Based on the terrifying true story of Vermont native Richard Phillips, it retells the fateful hours of when his cargo ship was hijacked by four Somali pirates back in 2009. Tom Hanks plays the stoic Phillips in a performance that will go down as one of his finest. Barkhad Abdi should be recognized for his enigmatic and chilling portrayal of Muse, the lead pirate. Until they meet, the film shows us the individual worldviews of Muse and Phillips; they are the protagonist of their story. Director Paul Greengrass wants to show the audience the complexity and humanity in each character"”even the ones we should root against.
Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) is an irrefutable master of the contained thriller. It's evident in his stellar work on the immensely engrossing 2006 Best Picture Oscar nominee United 93. If you haven't seen it, look in a mirror, slap yourself three times and go see it! This is the greatest film about one of the most tragic storylines on 9/11. If there's anyone who should be in the conversation to win Best Director this year, it should be him.
Last year's Zero Dark Thirty illustrated a similar docu-drama style of filmmaking to make the story feel real. But it was bogged down by multiple storylines and uneven characters. It shows that having a strong director, screenwriter, producers, actors, etc. aren't enough. Greengrass has an innate knack for compelling filmmaking, and this story will grab you by the throat and won't let you go until he allows it to do so. Not many directors can recreate a true event in such a faithful way that not only represents the essence of what took place but passes as if it were live footage. I'm at a point where I want to pray that Greengrass' efforts don't go unnoticed.
Sadly, awards seasons are tricky. Ben Affleck wasn't even nominated for his Best Picture winning Argo. Since Captain Phillips echoes similar subjects in United 93: terrorism, hijacking, and American courage, it may hurt Greengrass' chances of being recognized, but it shouldn't.
Some arguments against the greatness of this film: a mundane first act. For me, running time isn't an issue because spellbinding stories like this don't make you wonder what time it is. Besides, it's setting up the whole story, the calm before the storm"”monotonous situations are presented on purpose! You can also argue that the relationships in this story aren't as nuanced as it could have been. But a captor doesn't owe his hostage an extensive explanation or backstory on who they are. If you wanted to see a tale that took more creative liberties, then the trailers would have stated that this is inspired by a true story"”and it's not. It's based on a true one.