It’s testament to a great actor that despite being a major presence in movies for the best part of three decades, they can still surprise you and deliver roles that would rank among the very best (if not THE best) in their career. Captain Phillips (**** out of 5) lets Tom Hanks deliver that performance, showing the gradual emotional breakdown caused by an event of such unprecedented magnitude in an initially understated manner, building up to a final reel full-scale breakdown that shows a side to Hanks that is faithful to his every-man persona and yet completely different to any role he has played before.
Paul Greengrass’ film is based on the true story of the eponymous captain whose cargo ship was the first American vessel to be hijacked by Somali pirates in more than 200 years, and is remarkable in how it instead focuses on a human story instead of headline-grabbing sensationalism. Instead of a mustache twirling generic villain, lead pirate Muse (played by newcomer Barkhad Abdi in a deservedly Oscar nominated performance) is shown as a man going about his job in the same was as Phillips, and yet our sympathy’s are never in his favor.
I previously haven’t been a fan of Greengrass’ films due to his frenetic editing style; the average length of a shot in “The Bourne Ultimatum” was roughly 3 seconds, moving at a pace that disallowed me to continue to be invested in the Bourne saga in the way I was with the first, Doug Liman directed offering.
Furthermore, I found his previous “ripped from the headlines” piece United 93 over-rated, as I felt it had a clinical detachment from it’s central characters due to it’s need for the highest possible realism. It didn’t help that the portrayals of the 9/11 bombers in that film were too broad, and didn’t dare to even question what would make them commit their atrocities- not the case with captain Phillips, with the “villains” lives and motivations being contextualized without ever being pardoned.
Also his fondness for shaky-cam to invest more realism into his films usually backfires for me; here, it helps convey a sense of seasickness and claustrophobia that helped illustrate the growing tensions between Phillips and Muse. Without the burden of having to dramatize a historical event so overpoweringly monumental (as he did in United 93), Greengrass has made the best film of his career, and a perfect fit to his directorial style.
Emotional traumas of a far more relatable and less harrowing kind (unless you happen to be working on a particularly unfortunate shipping vessel) are offered in romantic comedy Enough Said (**** out of 5), James Gandolfini’s final film.
Gandolfini once said in an interview that his favorite films were “dumb comedies” and the plot of the latest effort from director Nicole Holofcener is dumber than most indie-spirited comedies- a divorced single mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) starts a relationship with the ex-husband of her new best friend (Catherine Keener, who also appears in Captain Phillips briefly as Phillips’ wife), not realizing the pair were ever married.
I’m not really one to watch many approaching middle age rom-coms (or rom-coms in general for that matter), but Holofcener’s film is full of real people with believably funny character traits. Gandolfini’s character is built entirely upon realistic yet bizarre character traits (not knowing how to whisper for example) that make it understandable as to how his previous relationship fell apart.
Beneath all the comedy there are also meaningful semi-existential conversations about life approaching old age, and how to fill the gaps in your life when the kids have grown up and are moving out imminently.
It’s farcial plot may render it not for everyone, but i found it to be a joy from beginning to end.
Next week: Blue Jasmine, Machete Kills and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2