Captain Phillips

Paul Greengrass, the 58-year-old director behind this year’s Captain Phillips, has recently been known for effectively conveying intense drama onto the silver screen. His past projects, which include 2002’s Blood Sunday, 2006’s United 93, and two of the Bourne films, have been praised for their brilliant compositions of action mixed with depth and intelligence. Nowadays, it’s very rare to see such films, since most action movies focus too much on the big explosions and less on developing interesting characters or thought-provoking situations. Fortunately, Greengrass fills in this void with the intense, 2-hour biopic Captain Phillips.
Although lengthy and stressful to watch, Captain Phillips’ greatest moments are thanks to Greengrass’ meticulous directing and yet another outstanding performance from a reliable Tom Hanks. Hanks plays the titular character, a cautious but brave cargo ship captain, whose boat is hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa. When Somali pirates take him hostage during the second half of the film, Captain Phillips finds himself and his crew in a dire life-threatening situation. I was initially doubtful about the film’s ability to maintain the tension between Phillips and the Somali pirates, since most of the second half lacked a consistent tone of thrills between the characters. Fortunately, after some long waits for excitement, the film’s jaw-dropping climax arrived. Without spoiling anything, the climax essentially evoked both an awe-inspiring performance from Hanks and a sense of relief. Captain Phillips ultimately captures the agony of Phillips’ character, providing an inspiring story of persistence and giving the audience a sense of pride for the United States Navy.
Another unique quality that I found while watching the biopic was how, much like his other movies, Greengrass uses a strong and predominantly unknown cast (aside from Hanks and a quick appearance from actress Catherine Keener, playing Phillips’ wife). Though Hanks presents a commanding presence onscreen, the other actors are a pleasure to watch as well, including first-timer Barkhad Abdi, who portrays the Somali pirate leader Abduwali Muse.
Despite the film’s realistic depictions of brutality of the merchant mariner’s perilous experience in 2009, Captain Phillips is not exactly historically accurate. Although his actions during the incident have been described as heroic, some crew members considered him reckless. According to these crew members, he originally ignored warnings of approaching Somali pirate boats and failed to keep his crew safe . Some even sued the Waterman Steamship Corporation and Maersk Line, the shipping companies who owned the ship, for nearly $50 million. They alleged “willful, wanton and conscious disregard for their safety” by Phillips, who was hired by the companies. Luckily, Greengrass quickly justified this criticism with his own experience of carefully shaping Captain Phillips, explaining that it took months of research and interviews with the crew and military responders who were involved in the real hijacking. He reassured that “[he’s] 100% satisfied that the picture we present of these events in the film, including the role playing by Captain Phillips, is authentic.”
Regardless of these controversies, Captain Phillips as a film alone still stands triumphant, despite some faults in the prolonged action sequences. It not only epitomizes the ideal form of Hollywood action films, but also reignites the sensation of watching deeply emotive and cerebral thrillers. Unlike most action movies, Captain Phillips humanizes both the heroes and villains in the story. It may be hard to sympathize with every character, but after watching this film, I could see that it poses a lot of interesting questions about the reality of a largely overlooked issue and how it affects the core of our nation’s security.
Grade: B+
Recommended: Yes, preferably for fans of cerebral thrillers
Watch the trailer here:


Cynics may think of Gravity as any ordinary sci-fi spectacle that’s heavy on visual effects and light on plot and character development. Some might also think that, based on Gravity‘s hectic trailer, it’s a mishmash of generic action and Sandra Bullock’s screaming for 2 hours. But what most people don’t realize is that Gravity‘s most imperative qualities come in the hands, eyes, and ears of prolific Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón. Known for his visually and thematically compelling films, such as Pan’s Labryinth, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men, Cuarón uses his gifted writing, directing, and producing to boldly craft Gravity. Based on responses from numerous critics and audiences, the result is both satisfying and stunning

Gravity proves to be a fantastic addition to the sci-fi thriller genre with mesmerizing visuals, intimate cinematography, and intriguing storytelling. At moments, its visual grandeur reminisces to other acclaimed space films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. But one major difference between Gravity and other space films is the centralized and meditative performances on the story’s two protagonists, the neurotic rookie astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and the talkative space veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). While reconfiguring the Hubble Space Telescope adrift in space, Stone and Kowalski are hit by debris from a damaged Russian space station, setting them into a series of unfortunate events. Without going into much plot, as to not ruin the rest of the film for interested moviegoers, Gravity‘s minimalist approach is much more unique and unconventional than any other space film. The film juxtaposes both the engrossing splendor and agonizing terror of being in space and that nothing in space is controlling you but “gravity.”

Despite the surprising 1 hour-30 minute running time, Gravity‘s scenes are lengthy and detailed, as a means to draw and pull (pun intended) the audience into the story. Though it could look and sound boring for some, Emmanuel Lubezki’s brilliant cinematography concentrates on using different camera angles to keep each scene both entertaining and alluring. In addition, instead of containing Bullock and Clooney in zero-gravity rooms during production, Cuáron shot most scenes using CGI and inside a mechanical rig attached to the actors and the camera. Although the use of CGI is common in most action films nowadays, with the inclusion of 3D, both come with great use in Gravity‘s captivating special effects.

Thematically, Gravity draws upon spiritual and psychological motifs, such as survival, fear, and resilience in the duration and aftermath of catastrophe. Cuarón’s practical and realistic portrayal of Bullock and Clooney’s characters embody clarity of mind and knowing what to do in the face of danger and isolation from everything and everyone else. Though these protagonists are the only two characters for most of the film, it actually cultivates a much more insightful perspective on people involved in perilous situations, whether it’s in space or down on Earth. Bullock particularly evokes a lost and fearful but ultimately durable character similar to Sigourney Weaver as the pivotal character in the Alien franchise. Of course, these themes are apparent through the film’s visuals and music score and help contrast the film’s multiple perspectives, the dichotomy of Earth’s beauty with the dark depths of space, as well as the silence of the space with the sound of the score. Furthermore, Gravity‘s modest yet perceptive script, written by Cuarón and his son Jonas, is another strength of the film’s qualities. Though some of the dialogue tends to be slightly melodramatic and cheesy, it helps build the film’s suspense and emotional depth for the most part.  

Gravity succeeds on almost every level, not just as an aesthetically powerful sci-fi film, but as an emotionally compelling survival story, as it grasps universal ideas on persistence in the midst of doom. It could just be another visually spectacular film that most moviegoers would regard as just OK or dull, but with Cuarón’s intuitive style, Gravity should surpass expectations.

Watch the trailer for Gravity here:

Grade: A-
Recommended: Yes