Tag Archives: Bourne

On DVD: Tom Hanks’ Crowning Performance in “Captain Phillips”

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In 2009, off the coast of Somalia, the MV Maersk Alabama became the first American ship boarded by pirates in over 200 years. After an unsuccessful hijacking attempt, the pirates escaped on the ship’s self-contained lifeboat with Captain Richard Phillips, who they then attempted to ransom off to the U.S. Navy.

If you’re familiar with director Paul Greengrass’s other films of the past decade – United 93, the final two Bourne movies starring Matt Damon, and the underrated Green Zone – you should know some of what to expect from Captain Phillips. The action plays out moment-to-moment in intensely kinetic sequences where the camera frenzies over the scene and makes you feel like a silent, if dizzy, fly on the wall. It’s surprisingly effective when the hijackers chase and board the ship, but the real strength of feeling like we’re right there in the room comes when things are relatively calm. We’re allowed to spy on characters taking stock of their situation.

Early on, when Phillips (Tom Hanks) arrives at the port from which the Alabama is departing, we’re shown thousands upon thousands of shipping containers being moved from dock to dock. For most directors, this would warrant an establishing shot showing the impressive scale of the dock before quickly settling in on Hanks. For Greengrass, it’s an opportunity to show both how intimidating the port is and how functional Phillips is within it. He energetically films the controlled chaos of the port and plays up its belittling size, but he also finds the rusted, used, scraped bits and makes sure we see these, too. It all reflects Phillips himself, a very intelligent, competent captain with a brash, nose-to-the-grindstone personality.

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First-time actor Barkhad Abdi plays Muse, the captain of Phillips’s captors, and his Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor was spot on. First of all, he holds the movie just as much as Hanks does. Secondly, when watching a movie like this, it’s very easy to adopt a mentality of us vs. them and ignore that Muse becomes a pirate because he can’t be a fisherman – developed countries have fished his ocean clean. Muse captures ships under the threat of execution if he refuses. Even when his bosses make $6 million from a ransom, Muse sees none of it and remains living in squalor. It’s easy to see Hanks as a likeable actor playing a workaday hero. Unfortunately, it’s even easier to see someone speaking a different language playing a villain and react in terror. The Oscar nomination goes far in reminding us that those villains are played by actors just as likeable as Hanks.

Another nice touch is the treatment of the Navy SEAL team. There’s no trumped-up Hollywood resentment between Captain Frank Castellano, whose U.S.S. Bainbridge was the first to reach the lifeboat, and the leader of the SEAL team who later takes command of the situation. Castellano does his job to the best of his ability and then moves into a support role. There’s no arguing about the best course of action as in a Name-Your-Tom-Clancy film – people just do their jobs.

One of the best shots of the film occurs directly after the mission is completed. Their rifles packed up, the SEAL team simply leaves the deck. There is no one-liner or self-congratulation after shooting someone, whether deserved or not. They do what anyone does after a difficult job: they go home. That realism and accessibility makes them feel more heroic than any amount of patriotic fist-pumping could achieve.

When Captain Phillips arrived in theaters, it was a week after Gravity had fused groundbreaking camera techniques with incredible special effects, acting rehearsed at obsessive-compulsive levels, and swelling, orchestral music. It was an unreal experience polished to perfection. Captain Phillips shows us what can be done with quick edits, real sets, and improvised acting. This is the best performance Hanks has given in years, maybe in his career. There is zero separation between character and actor, and the final scene is the most raw, honest performance I’ve seen on film in a long, long time. Both films show that two artists can create the same feeling using completely different techniques, but also that two great artists can create a thousand different feelings using only one.

Captain Phillips is rated PG-13 for its intensity, some violence, and for substance use.

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Store Brand Spy — “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the sort of spy movie that features two attractive, young actors meant to get audiences into the theater and two older, established actors meant to give the scenario at play its gravitas. Jack Ryan is played by Chris Pine, best known for his Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. We never get enough of a quiet moment for Pine to communicate who Ryan really is. The closest we get is a scene in which he meets with his handler in Moscow, Harper (Kevin Costner). Ryan’s just survived an attempt on his life, he’s being followed, and he’s shaken. Pine is good, but one of Costner’s talents is that he automatically carries an audience’s goodwill into any movie. It’s surprising when he becomes dull so quickly.

Luckily, Shadow Recruit boasts Shakespearian heavyweight Kenneth Branagh. As Cherevin, the Russian baddie with a plan to collapse the United States, however, he fails to feel intimidating or scary. That’s two “howevers” in the first two paragraphs. That’s never a good sign. Instead, the two older actors feel like they’re just collecting paychecks, which is strange considering Branagh directed the movie.

Chris Pine and Keira Knightley, as Ryan’s girlfriend Cathy, exude the energy their elders lack. Pine himself is an excellent mimic. You can see him channel the other actors who’ve played Ryan before him – Alec Baldwin, who launched the character from book to film in The Hunt for Red October, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. Pine adopts Ford’s jaded tics and habits during the action, but plays his cover identity as a Wall Street compliance officer more like Baldwin and Affleck. When Ryan pretends to be drunk, Pine even infuses him with some William Shatner. It’s the wrong franchise, but I’m sure you can imagine it works anyway. At some point, a director’s going to realize Pine has talent that exceeds his leading man looks and give him something more challenging.


Cathy is the sort of thankless, supporting role in which Knightley excels. We’ve seen her in so many breathy, period roles (Pirates of the Caribbean, Anna Karenina) that it’s difficult to remember she plays modern parts with a great deal of expression and exuberance. That’s the biggest problem. When Ryan and Cherevin are sitting opposite each other at dinner, each knowing who the other is, we shouldn’t feel as if Cathy – accidentally roped into a dangerous situation – commands the room.

The reasons most see a spy movie are for the tense spycraft, jigsaw plot mechanics, and exciting action. As for spycraft, Shadow Recruit has all of one scene – Ryan breaks into a secure building the exact same way you’ve seen in a dozen other spy movies and every other Hawaii Five-O episode.

The plot itself concerns Cherevin’s attempts to create a terror attack on U.S. soil and dump trillions of investments in the aftermath, crashing America’s economy. Rather than dealing with any real details as to how this works, Harper keeps on telling Ryan that it’s just too complicated for him to understand, so could Ryan deal with it instead? Nevermind that this means an entire spy agency is risking war on a lowly analyst’s unconfirmed hunch.

There are three action setpieces. The first is a brawl in a bathroom that is a nearly exact replica of the prologue in Casino Royale. The second and third are both car chases that lack any sense of clarity. At one point, a villain you believe has been ditched suddenly reappears in the back of a van, trying to wire a bomb. How’d he get back inside the speeding vehicle? By the power of bad editing. (Come to think of it, that would be a great power for a superhero.) If this film made anything clear, it’s that Branagh cannot direct a car chase.

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Pine and Knightley both deserve another chance at these characters, but with a better script and a new director. Shadow Recruit wants to be one of Daniel Craig’s Bond films or a Matt Damon Bourne movie, but those two franchises repeatedly took storytelling risks to be successful. Shadow Recruit shies away from risk, doesn’t trust its characters with a plot, and trips over its own action. Worst of all, as the film’s established anchors, Costner and Branagh just feel like they’re running lines until the studio comes to its senses and hires Gary Oldman.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is rated PG-13 for violence and brief language.