Commentary
5:00 am
Thu October 17, 2013

Despite Its Jumpy Camera, 'Captain Phillips' Is Engaging, Nuanced and Suspenseful

Tom Hanks encounters Somali pirates in 'Captain Phillips'
Tom Hanks encounters Somali pirates in 'Captain Phillips'
Credit rottentomatoes.com

Captain Phillips is the supposedly true story of the hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somalian pirates in 2009, and on the whole it's a suspenseful and convincing account with, unfortunately for me, two or three elements that grind me. But they may not bother you, and may actually appeal to you.

If you sit farther back from the screen than I did, you might not be as bothered by the jumpy, jerky handheld camera that seems to be intended to related the movements of a ship at sea, because the jerkiness is mostly limited to outdoor shots, as if the areas inside the ship remained steady while the outsides bounced around. And the pirates seem unable to communicate except at the top of their voices, and usually are shouting two or three at a time, as if trying to outroar an insistent musical score that almost drowns them out.

Those are the things I found unsatisfactory.

Otherwise, Captain Phillips good deal better than I had expected.

The hostage story is more complicated than I realized, eventually including helicopters and even parachute men. At the start, there is a rather sympathetic picture of the pirates, at least to the extent of emphasizing their desperation and lack of proper fighting equipment compared to the sheer size of the American ship and the advanced technology they are up against.

There is a very brief bit about Captain Phillips' domestic life, which the pirates apparently don't have. There is virtually nothing about the opposing causes-- the whole situation is treated as a business matter involving the need for money, which the pirates obviously need badly.

There are no standard heroics and there is a careful effort to equalize the sides. For example, both Tom Hanks and the head pirate are eager to avoid bloodshed-- and both have men who thirst for it.