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Captain Phillips Movie Review

Title: Captain Phillips

Columbia Pictures

Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on

Grade: C+

Director: Paul Greengrass

Screenwriter: Billy Ray

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener, Michael Chernus, Corey Johnson, Max Martini, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vázquez, David Warshofsky

Screened at: AMC 34th Street, NYC, 10/7/13

Opens: October 11, 2103

What I wanted to know and what “Captain Phillips” does not get around to telling us is: What do these Somali pirates do with the millions they collect as ransom? What can you possibly buy in one of the world’s horribly failed nations? Sand? No, there’s lots of that and it’s free. An internet search gives the pirates’ motivation. One leading fellow said that the first thing he did with the million he netted on one operation was buy a Toyota Land Cruiser for $30,000. What more can one ask for? Just this: when his car needs a repair, he does not humiliate himself with his peers by getting it fixed. He buys a new car. Then he gets cars for members of his family and allegedly, to show how moral he is, he gives thousands to the city administrator for repairs of the village. What else? Women, drugs (like khat) and alcohol. I guess that makes risking your life time and again worthwhile. It’s apparently better than plying your trade catching fish.

The above information is more interesting than anything that happens in the film directed by Paul Greenglass, known for “The Bourne Identity” and “United 93,” both of which are more than respectable. Here, however, Greengrass has his camera person shake and bob in switching from the pirate chief, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and the ship’s skipper, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks)–this as though it were not enough that the waves on the high sea are nausea-inducing. The movie is based on the real-life year 2008 adventure of a Captain Phillips as stated in his memoir, but one hopes that the printed page is more substantial than the flat-out repetitive and banal chatter at ear-piercing volume between Phillips and the pirates, who seem always to look emaciated perhaps by their habit of chewing khat. None of the villains even begins to look like Johnny Depp, nor do they have eye patches, a flag on the mother ship with a skull and crossbones, and sing “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”

The film begins on terra firma as Virginia resident Captain Phillips tells his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener who, blink and you might miss her) that he loves her, gets driven to the airport, and winds up in Oman where he is to lead a crew from there to Mombasa, Kenya, to deliver hundreds of tons of food and other supplies. But Greengrass and Ray are not interested in telling us more about this aid, which presumably makes America look good, preferring to spend most of the movie’s hour and a quarter on the palaver between Phillips and Muse, the latter speaking broken English, and calling Phillips “Irish, “ because the skipper tells him that he is Irish –American. Abdi, who was born in Somalia and emigrated to the U.S., performs in his film debut, but he has nothing particularly interesting to say other than to appeal to his pals “Don’t kill him” and “Do I look like a beggar?” when the captain offers him the $30,000 on the boat—which he should have taken and gone home, quitting while he was ahead.

If you saw Tobias Lindholm’s Danish film “A Hijacking” you’re going to be spoiled, because that pic gets it tension not from loud confrontations but from the clever give and take of the Danish negotiators led by the CEO of a shipping company who are in Copenhagen when the vessel is seized and where the entire crew, particularly the cook and the engineer, get to participate actively in the story. “Captain Phillips” is just one more evidence of how Hollywood substitutes action and melodrama for a genuinely absorbing screenplay.

Rated PG-13. 133 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-

Acting – B-

Technical – C

Overall – C+

Captain Phillips Movie

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Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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