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Captain Philips: Gripping True Story of Survival at Sea
What do you get when you put together Paul Greengrass – director of the Bourne Trilogy, Bloody Sunday and United 93 – and the forever charming and ever so talented Tom Hanks? The answer is very simple; a stunning success.
Taking us back to 2009, Captain Philips retells the harrowing true story of Captain Richard Philips, whose cargo ship, the MV Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by four Somali pirates near the Somali coast.
Heading out for yet another one of his routine trips, Captain Philips (Hanks) kisses his wife (Keener) goodbye and hops on a plane to Oman, where a container ship carrying over 15,000 metric tons of cargo awaits. Through the troubled African waters, the trip from Oman to Kenya is not a task to be taken lightly; having received numerous warnings and threats of possible pirate attacks, carried out by an armed group of bandits who regularly operate the area, the ship is in danger before it even sets for sail. However, being a man of his word, the Captain doesn't back down and prepares his crew with countless drills, should problems arise.
Sure enough, the MV Maersk Alabama soon encounters trouble when a small speedboat, carrying commanding pirate Muse (Abdi) and his fellow associates, Elmi (Ali), Najee (Ahmed) and rookie Bilal (Abdirahman), approaches the ship. The Captain, along with his crew of twenty, offers some resistance, but not enough to keep the pirates at bay.
Nerve-wracking, tense and wonderfully engaging, Captain Philips is almost without a fault. Hanks, an award-winning actor who has been around in the business for over three decades now, returns with yet another powerhouse performance. Offering Captain Philips much of its gravity, Hanks is dominant, vulnerable and incredibly soulful, making his depiction of the heroic Captain possibly some of the actor's best work to date. Alongside this, the first time actors involved execute their challenging roles of menacing pirates superbly. Abdi, who plays the leader of the crew, Muse, is spectacularly disarming and the chemistry between him and Hanks is where the heart of the story lies.
Drawing from non-fiction books, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea, director Paul Greengrass also calls on the help of writer Billy Ray – of The Hunger Games and Flight Plan fame – to put together an engrossing, nail-biting retelling of a story of survival.
Surprisingly, considering that this is a true-story with a very well-known ending, Greengrass still manages to infuse an enormous amount of suspense, intensity and rawness to the picture.
Captivating, emotional and without reservations, Captain Philips offers one hell of a ride, and thanks to the wonderful and mind-blowing performance by the always-brilliant Tom Hanks, this could quite possibly be the winner of one of the best pictures of the year.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.