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Captain Phillips (Blu-ray Review)

17 Jan, 2014 By: John Latchem

Street 1/21/14
Sony Pictures
Box Office $104.99 million
$30.99 DVD, $40.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images and for substance use.
Stars Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi.

When it comes to that game in which people speculate who would play them in a movie, I wonder if Richard Phillips ever would have guessed he’d end up with Tom Hanks.

Phillips, of course, was the captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama who was taken hostage by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa in 2009, before being rescued by the U.S. Navy. And Hanks turns in another terrific performance taking on the real-life role, at times disappearing so deep into the part you forget it’s even him.

The film is based primarily on Phillips’ book about the incident, A Captain’s Duty, and covers the essential beats, with a four-man team of gunmen boarding the ship with hopes of ransoming it for a multimillion-dollar insurance payday.

Director Paul Greengrass ingeniously structures the opening act of the film as a parallel story between Phillips and the captain of the pirate crew, played effectively by newcomer Barkhad Abdi. This lends at least some sympathy to his plight, even if our rooting interest doesn’t ultimately lie with him.

Once their stories converge, the film becomes a race against the clock, with Navy SEALs flown in to stop the Somalis from getting Phillips back to shore in a stolen lifeboat.

The film has an immediacy thanks to Greengrass’ trademark gritty action style, and an air of authenticity since it was filmed at sea on a real Maersk hauler.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray is rather light on extras, offering only an excellent hour-long making of documentary and a dry solo commentary from Greengrass. Phillips himself is interviewed in the documentary, and his recollections are riveting stuff.

Absent any lengthy material on the actual incident, it might have been better had they got the real Phillips to participate in the commentary. Based on his demeanor in the documentary, he seems game enough to recount the ordeal, and it would have been interesting to get a sense of what parts of the film really happened and what was exaggerated without having to resort to the Internet.

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