Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Paul Greengrass is a director of kinetic action. The immediacy of his visual style in the second and third BOURNE installments gave equal momentum and tension to wonks in the situation room and agents fighting in the field. He used this style with devastating effect in the difficult UNITED 93, but it failed him in the clumsy, politically na├»ve GREEN ZONE. With a nautical setting and trademark handheld camera, Greengrass is on terra firma in his latest white-knuckle thriller. Based on the non-fiction book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty, Billy Ray’s taut screenplay recounts the fateful 2009 encounter off the Horn of Africa between a small band of Somali pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks), captain of the Maersk Alabama. Though the filmmakers waste no time getting to the attempted hijacking and kidnapping, they offer insight into the day-to-day workings of the cargo freighter and also a glimpse into the desperation which drives the Somalis as they strive to appease violent, demanding warlords. The film’s first half establishes Phillips leadership abilities. He repels an initial attack but cannot withstand a second. Once the Somalis breach the ship, we watch with anxious admiration as our resourceful captain uses every available means to stop the intruders from gaining control of the vessel. Muse’s leadership qualities are those of a typical action hero: courage and tenacity. In the real world, however, these have their limits. The pirates must give up their bounty on the cargo, abandon the freighter via its lifeboat and take Phillips as hostage instead. The film’s second half chronicles the tense, close-quarter negotiations between Phillips, Muse and the U.S. Navy as the noose tightens inexorably on the pirates. Hanks’ performance is his best in years, and the remarkable Abdi matches him. Greengrass and Ray dare to provide a reason (not an excuse) for the Somalis’ actions. In doing so, they challenge us to understand and feel compassion for the pirates, which elevate the story’s foregone conclusion to one of human tragedy.

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