Sunday, October 13, 2013

BuboBlog Reviews 'Captain Phillips'

It's not every day that the top two highest-grossing films at the box office have Rotten Tomatoes ratings above 90 percent. But that's the situation at the moment, with "Gravity" (97 percent) and "Captain Phillips" (94 percent) ranking first and second over the weekend.

Both films depict desperate acts in isolation — whether it's in outer space or on the high seas — and give Oscar-winning actors a chance to do their thing in extreme closeup.

I haven't seen "Gravity" yet, but we did go to "Captain Phillips" on Saturday. The movie chronicles the true story of Richard Phillips, a cargo-ship captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates after his vessel was hijacked in 2009.

Director Paul Greengrass has a knack for conveying a sense of realism, and that's definitely the case here. "Captain Phillips" was WAAAYY more realistic than any pirate movie I've ever seen. In fairness, that list includes "Hook," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and — of course — "Goonies."

The villains of "Captain Phillips" are emaciated Somalis: scary and unpredictable, though ultimately sympathetic. The men are former fisherman whose livelihood was destroyed by the traffic of shipping channels, and they're now hooked on khat and enlisted as pirates by ruthless tribal elders.

(Side note: I'm really hoping the film's success doesn't turn Somali pirates into a Halloween meme this year, especially "slutty" Somali pirates.)

In any case, Greengrass doesn't make the raiders too sympathetic. You still root for Phillips (Tom Hanks) all the way through, even accepting the desperate plight of the pirates. The film is tense and emotional, and never drags — even when you're watching men spend hours in a lifeboat.

The movie also serves as the perfect nightmare of any member of the NRA. When the pirates attack, Phillips and his crew are unarmed and have to use fire hoses in an unsuccessful attempt to ward off machine-gun-toting thugs. It almost seems to scream: "See! Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun."

Good guys with guns do eventually arrive (in the form of Navy Seals), but the film is more about the heroism of a man using only his voice to save the lives of his crew and subdue his attackers.

"Captain Phillips" also is a film about our armed forces acting with professionalism, respect and competence. (When they take a Somali prisoner, he is treated better than the pirates treat their own hostages.) Even with the unfortunate bloodshed at the end, it's the kind of movie that makes you proud to be an American.

I'd like to think that part of it is indeed realistic.

BuboBlog Rating: 3.5 asterisks (out of 4).