Captain Phillips - Blu-ray Review

'executed well in Greengrass' trademark style; kineticism meeting breathlessness, but as the film moves towards its conclusion, something goes wrong'

Though Captain Phillips has a tense and somewhat claustrophobic first half or so, the second does leave you wondering quite whether this story was a perfect match for the talents of Paul Greengrass. The close confines of the mental combat between Phillips himself (Tom Hanks) and pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi) are executed well in Greengrass' trademark style; kineticism meeting breathlessness, but as the film moves towards its conclusion, something goes wrong.

Greengrass has never felt like a film-maker suited to depicting the big military machine and, in fact, his films focusing on outsiders or small groups (his two Bourne films, United 93) are in stark contrast to times when he is meant to be at least partially on the side of the state (this, Green Zone). The conclusion to Captain Phillips, which inevitably sees the involvement of the US Navy, means that the director is almost obligated to champion the US military mantra. When it arrives, it almost feels like he doesn't want to, leading to a subdued finale which feels less triumphal than you suspect it read on paper. At times, this feels like a Tom Clancy adaptation, something you would previously have felt Greengrass was a world away from.

Greengrass also doesn't feel comfortable with the quiet Drama moments here, as if some of his discomfort with the whole thing seeps into other areas. Captain Phillips opens on a conversation between the Cap and his wife (Catherine Keener), which must be amongst one of the most artificial and poorly written scenes of last year. 'I worry about our kids', Phillips tells his wife, despite us never seeing them, nor they having any import on the plot, 'I hear what you're saying', she replies, robotically. It's a minor, minor part of the film but it typifies the discomfort, which creeps through occasionally, even when we make it to the ship.

Where Captain Phillips succeeds is in the moments where it can boil the film down to small conflicts, or quieter struggles. The first half, comprising mainly of the pirates arrival and Hanks leading Abdi around the ship on a want-to-be wild goose chase, is exactly where the director excels. There's little physical conflict here, certainly not of the Bourne kind, but there's plenty of psychological battle, as Phillips tries to maintain an advantage.

Greengrass has talked about this being a film about globalisation: world's colliding. If it is I'm not sure these sections show the director in the best light: Muse is, frankly, not very bright and Phillips control of the situation is actually rarely challenged or questioned. White superiority, as we expand into foreign waters and meet different cultures?

The base thrills then are here, and enjoyable for a time, but the politics are confused at best, fluffed at worst. There's nothing here in Captain Phillips' mantra which makes it feel like a good fit for Greengrass, and little evidence of his ability to put his own print on things. Not terrible, by any means, but certainly not the director's best work.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.


  1. I came to largely the same conclusion about CAPTAIN PHILLIPS as you, although I struggled to articulate why I was largely underwhelmed by it so I'm glad you were of a similar mind to me about it. A few of my observations for your consideration:

    1) The USS Bainbridge scenes felt like they were from a different film; much of the rest of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS was clearly going for authenticity and realism, whereas the Bainbridge scenes largely felt like something out of a military action thriller, complete with moody lighting and big computer screens telling us what was happening.

    2) The film never overcomes its own inevitability. We know how the story has to end, but Greengrass never does enough to keep us invested despite that. Several times I felt very aware of the ending long before it actually came which was a real distraction.

    3) As soon as the action switched to the lifeboat, I felt like Greengrass was padding things out. The whole film could easily have lost fifteen minutes and felt tighter for it.

    A good film despite these issues, but definitely not worthy of the 5* reviews it seems to be garnering.

    1. Agree with all of that. I didn't know what happened at the end before I watched it (and, oddly, people had been telling me to avoid reading Phillips' story beforehand - it's hardly a major reveal!) but it feels inevitable and predictable in a way that Greengrass hardly ever makes his film's feel, even in the case of United 93. The opening is tense and interesting and well shot, but as soon as Phillips leaves the tanker it dies a death for me.

    2. I think United 93 is a very apt comparison. With that film you were entirely invested despite knowing exactly how things ended. Here, I hadn't read up on Phillips beforehand either, but I think the fact that it's based on a true story made it fairly clear how things were going to end from the start. Greengrass was lucky to have Hanks in the lead, otherwise the second half could have brought the whole film crashing down.