NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Hours after the World Premiere of Paul Greengrass‘ newest psychological thriller “Captain Phillips,” my heart is still racing at a hundred beats per minute. Starring the magnificent Tom Hanks in his finest performance since “Cast Away,” this edge-of-your-seat thrill ride lands as one of the best films of the New York Film Festival and the year.
An intricate and precisely executed thriller written by Billy Ray, everything about “Captain Phillips” works amazingly. It’s this year’s “Zero Dark Thirty” in tension and features not one, but two fierce performances from Tom Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi. A loose dramatization and not a fact to fact retelling of a dark day for an American captain, the film takes us through the days Captain Richard Phillips’ cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. The film unravels itself with a narrative intensity bringing our hero from the day of his departure to the end of his journey. Writer Billy Ray‘s detailed and well-structured script provides Greengrass to do exactly what he does best in his directorial efforts. There are definite elements in “Captain Phillips” that remind me of the emotional and gut-wrenching effect that “United 93” had on so many of us nearly seven years ago. While you will have a near heart attack, you will be in tears by the end credits.
I haven’t been this impressed with the work of Tom Hanks in years. Putting every ounce of his charm to good use but digging deep into a character with such raw and emotional fervency. Hanks’ dedication and abilities utilized are the same tools used in his first Oscar-winning performance in “Philadelphia” I assure you. It’s a turn that could make him this year’s Daniel Day-Lewis. As his wife, the beautiful Catherine Keener is regulated to one single scene, at the beginning of our film, where Hanks dominates the conversation. Still a cherry on top if you ask me but not something that many will notice nor remember..
Breakthrough performer Barkhad Abdi is simply sensational. With a snarky demeanor as he calls Capt. Phillips “Irish” – Abdi plays Muse, a Somali pirate that is layered with pride and disdain for the human condition. Billy Ray gives him such a complexity, hinting at a sensitive undertone but not masking the overtly violent rage that embodies his soul; it’s a creative formula that equals an interesting dichotomy. Abdi administers these traits brilliantly.
As you expect any Paul Greengrass film to be, the technical executions are top-notch including the intimate Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd and the tight editing of Christopher Rouse, both sure-fire Oscar nominees for awards season.
One of the amazing things about “Captain Phillips” is the final twenty minutes or so. Pent-up emotion that has built for nearly two hours, our hero’s last moments with the audience are both triumphant and incredibly vulnerable. This is when Tom Hanks shows his true power as one of the finest actors to grace our screens. I admire the man. He captures the real human condition, both in courage and in the face of defeat. How would you react in what you thought could be your final moments on Earth? Who would you think about? What about if you did make it? Would you be so overcome with emotion that you couldn’t focus on the blanket of safety that surrounds you, or would you just crumble into the fetus position, wanting to return to your place of origin? “Captain Phillips” renewed my love of the movies. It’s what breathes life into my daily routine. It fascinates us and which is why, no matter how terrible our lives are, or how the economy falls beneath our feet, cinema still lives. Free as a bird. I’m in awe of all of this. I feel privileged to share those moments. Not to be hyperbolic or put focus on the Oscar race, which is what I do for a living, but “Captain Phillips” showed me what Tom Hanks really means to cinema. Our lives are habitual and ordinary at times, yet someone, every now and again, has the ability to capture those little quirks of our own selves. I think Hanks is this generation’s treasure that will be remembered for years to come. I’m in near tears as I write this now. Paul Greengrass brought me personally into a situation that I will likely never be in and examined my frail and defenseless spiritual nature. Connection. That’s what cinema is about. Few films do this. Many never will.
To get off the somber note, “Captain Phillips” is filled with high-levels of tension. Bring your defibrillator and a bottle of Xanex to make it through the picture as your heart will be beating outside of your chest. In so many ways, it’s the perfect film. Real life, authentic characters, and a cast and crew that show up to deliver some of their finest works. A dynamite lesson of the human psyche.
“Captain Phillips” opens in theaters October 11.