Thursday, February 6, 2014

Captain Phillips (a movie review post)

Yes, we did go see Captain Phillips even though neither of us really wanted to. However! It was making a special appearance at the cheap theater, so we both got in for less than the cost of even one matinee-priced ticket at the normal theater. No, I'm not sure it was even worth that much.

The question I kept asking myself as I was watching the movie and have continued to ask since seeing the movie is "Why did this need to be a movie?" My wife says it's because we need to have movies each year that feature the American military as the good guys, but I'm just not quite buying it. I mean, that's probably true, but it just doesn't do it for me.

Yes, there will be spoilers. Not like everyone doesn't already know how this turns out.

There are a few interesting parts in the movie, but they're not enough to give the movie any real depth. For instance, the movie opens with a scene of Phillips readying himself for his trip. [It's actually the kind of thing I routinely tell my creative writing class not to do: Do not give us your character waking up in the morning, brushing his teeth and eating breakfast. We don't care. Unless there actually is some relevance to the story. Not that that is what see with Phillips, but it's the same kind of thing, but it does have a point.] It's completely normal and middle class, him going off to the airport. I have to say, though, that the dialogue between Phillips and his wife is terrible. It switches, then, to the character of Muse and how his day starts. It serves to show us how very different these two characters are and, yet, how they are similar. So, yeah, that was interesting, but that's the first 10 minutes or so and nothing's that interesting the rest of the movie.

The whole movie can be boiled down to one conversation between Phillips and Muse:
Phillips: There has to be something more than fishing and kidnapping people.
Muse: Maybe in America. Maybe in America.

I think that moment is so short that it gets lost in the rest of the movie. And the movie does nothing to support it, since it focuses on Phillips and not what drove the pirates to do what they do.

The thing I was most struck with, though, is not something I think I was meant to think about:
The pirates were trying to ransom Phillips for $10 million. In response, we mounted a huge Naval engagement which included airdropping in a bunch of SEALs and an aircraft carrier. The recovery mission took days. I'm sure the cost of the rescue mission dwarfed the 10 million the pirates wanted. I'm not saying we should have paid them off, because I don't that at all. I do think there has to be a better way, though. [And because I was curious, the cost to operate an aircraft carrier per day is $7 million! And it was one of only three Navy ships involved in the mission. The mission which lasted several days. So, yeah, we spent WAY more than $10 million to get Phillips back.]

As for the acting, I was unimpressed. Hanks showed up and was appropriately stoic through most of the film. The only real acting he did was at the very end after he was rescued, at which point he has a complete meltdown. That scene with him was great, but the rest of the movie was pretty flat. His acting, all the acting, the whole movie. Let's just say that, overall, I was particularly underwhelmed. It was kind of like watching the "high speed" chase of O.J. Simpson on TV a couple of decades ago. Oh, except for the brief moment where I thought the movie was about to become Home Alone as the crew did things like spread broken glass on the floor for the barefoot pirates to step on. But that didn't last long enough to be engaging.

Basically, the movie gets a "meh" from me. It wasn't stupid (which, you know, would have been pretty bad considering it's based on true events), but it also just didn't do anything for me. I never cared about any of the people involved except for brief moments for the "pirate" kid that stepped on the glass; he was only 15-ish. But, then, Muse was only 16-ish (which never comes out in the movie. If they'd highlighted that, there may have been some emotional investment, but, then, it might have been invested in the "bad" guys). This just isn't an Oscar caliber movie. It's better than The Wolf of Wall Street but not by much. It is, however, politically correct, I would suppose.


  1. Hm, didn't he not get nominated for an Oscar? Or am I wrong? I suppose it was valid if he didn't then. I must say, I really didn't hear much about this movie after it came out, which is never a good sign. I think modern-day pirates could make for an interesting story, but it doesn't sound like they managed that. I mean, how many people realize there are still pirates?

  2. Haven't seen it, so no idea. Does sound like we spent a lot of money trying to get him back.
    Did you like American Hustle and Gravity? Don't remember. I want to see this one now.

  3. Too bad: sounds like there could have been an interesting movie in contrasting Hanks' (relatively) privileged American guy with job versus Muse's pirate and how they reacted to things, etc.

    Contrasting your review of this with Argo -- where the outcome was also known but there was a sense of suspense to it -- might show how to take true events and make them into a good movie. In "Argo," the characters never really developed beyond "the characters," even Ben Affleck. But people cared because the plot of the movie was so crazy (and hadn't really been told) that the story was the story.

    Here, it sounds like they just straightforwardly recounted a story that everyone pretty much knew. My own rule is "Don't say something unless you've got something new to say," so I wouldn't have made this movie just to tell the basic story.

    On your point about the aircraft carrier: comparisons like that can be misleading. It's $7,000,000 per day to run the carrier whether it's floating in the Atlantic or cruising to a rescue: we pay our soldiers for standing around and for fighting. So unless the rescue imposed extra costs (like paying overtime, or combat pay or something) the cost of the rescue was already absorbed. So a fair comparison would be the cost of the ammo we had to replace, and the like. It was probably a pretty minimal increase in overall operational budgets.

  4. I see I posted that under Sweetie's real name, because she was signed in on my computer.

    But those are MY thoughts.

  5. I think it's good they tried to show it a little from the pirate perspective, but it isn't really a story as much as it's a one-off event with no real narrative. They did this so we did that. The end.

    Moody Writing

  6. I had a negative interest in seeing this movie from the first trailer I saw. I think it's the sort of thing that would have me rivited if I knew someone involved. And my dad spent several days as a hostage once, and I find his story fascinating and in some places, absurdly surreal (Think of it as Die Hard, but with John McClain staring at the barrel of a machine gun the whole time with his head covered and saying 'yes sir' a lot, until someone else stepped in and took care of things). I'd never want to see that dramatized into a movie.

    A documentary, maybe. Not a movie.

    Anyway, you implied as much, and Briane (or Sweetie) covered some of the economics of it, but I think there are long term reasons that mega corporations don't want to pay off hijackers and the military feels the need to protect said mega corporations' assets while abroad.

    If I were said mega corporation, and this sort of thing is known to happen on occasion (and it is) then I'd consider the cost of having Rambo on board. I mean, the guy lives in a hut in the woods, you could probably pay him $5 a week and he'd take care of anyone that threatens the ship.

    All kidding aside, Somalia is a place mired in horrid poverty and things like ransoming work crews in the area is the only viable means many people there have to create a life for themselves.

    And it seems like I read somewhere a few years ago, when the piracy thing was actually somewhat effective, that most of the money being taken was distributed in such a way that the folks getting rich were far away from the action itself.

  7. It's probably one of those things that would have been a better documentary on History or Nat Geo or something. I read a book a couple years ago by the late Elmore Leonard that involved Somali pirates and it wasn't very good either, but I suppose at some point someone will make something good about this situation.

  8. I might see it if my wife rents it, but I have no interest in seeing it besides that it has Hanks in it.

  9. What a shame, I figured Tom Hanks ergo good movie. Apparently not so.

  10. What a shame, I figured Tom Hanks ergo good movie. Apparently not so.

  11. Shannon: Yes, he did not get nominated. His performance just wasn't compelling.

    Alex: Yeah, I liked Hustle and Gravity. Hustle is my wife's pick for best pic.

    Briane: I do take your point about the aircraft carrier, BUT
    1. Mostly, I looked that up because I became curious about and then was... I don't know. That's a lot of money to operate a boat.
    2. IF the government was going to bill out the expense of the rescue operation, they would bill out those days as part of it. It doesn't matter if the carrier would have been out in the water anyway. It's (kind of) like you billing a client who comes to see you in your office even though you would have been there anyway.
    3. There were extra expenses above what was normal, like flying the SEAL team around the world (because they were in the US when they were called in) and airdropping them into the situation. That probably cost more then $10mil all by itself.

    mood: yeah, The movie would have been much better if it had been used to actually illustrate some larger point, but it really wasn't.

    Rusty: Oh, man, none of the "pirates" got any money. They were working for some warlord under, basically, threat of death. He's the one that would receive all the money. It's pretty horrible, actually.

    Pat: It's just, in the scheme of things, this one incident wasn't really important. We only care because an American was involved.

    David: That it has Hanks is not really enough for this one.

    Jo: Yeah, that doesn't always work out.

  12. I know that Barkhad Abdi is nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor in this movie, and that's kind of why I wanted to see it. I watched a little documentary on the making of it, as well...I'm kind of disappointed that you're saying it's not a better movie. :( Bummer...

  13. Geez, it can't be top tier if it makes a boring movie out of a Somali pirate kidnapping.

  14. RG: Yeah, I'm not really behind his nomination, either. It feels like a nomination to be PC, not because he was performing well.

    Jeanne: true

  15. Despite being a Tom Hanks fan, I have no interest in this movie at all. It's probably just not my type of movie.

  16. You make a good point about the cost. However, because you mentioned my law practice, I have to bill you. That's the way we work. And because I mentioned it, I have to bill you again.

  17. I thought the same thing with the cost of that deployment rescue. My hubby is ex-military and I was saying the same to him. It's kind of like a message to other countries that the US will take necessary measures. So I get that. And you're wife is totally right. These films encourage young men and women to join the service. My hubby says the same thing all the time when one of these films come out.
    As for the film itself, I enjoyed it... well as much as you can enjoy an intense story like that. It felt very real to life and I think that's what they were going for. I would've liked to know more about those young pirates, too, and I think mentioning their young ages would've been helpful.
    If it hadn't been a true story, I wouldn't have liked the movie at all. But knowing it was real--just as everyone did--made the difference for me and I found it riveting in parts.
    But what I wanna know is why the hell these cargo ships don't have hired arms when they travel thru these waters?? That would've saved a lot of grief. I bet they have them now.

  18. Gina: Tom Hanks was not a motivation for me, either.

    Briane: But I'm wearing that shirt I got from you with all of your advertising info on it, which means I'm marketing for you every time I wear it, which is about once a week, so let me calculate what you owe me from that.

    Pk: I was mostly just bored through the whole thing. I never felt a sense of urgency or danger except at the beginning when the one guy was trying to fix the fire house. It just didn't do it for me.

    I think the ships are still unguarded. Not that I've checked on that recently, but there was some debate about it at one point, and I think they were not going to do that.

  19. Interesting. My wife and I watched this film on DVD at home just last night. Did you and I see the same movie? We absolutely loved it. Such a refreshing film after so much crap we've been watching.

    I disagree with just about every point you've made here, but I guess partly it's a matter of political ideologies. Don't know, but I won't even go into most of the points of disagreement.

    However, regarding the opening. This is a common approach that we frequently see in horror films and other films where catastrophic tension filled events are going to happen. We are lulled into the mundane everyday world only to have it all shattered. I liked the way Captain Phillips balanced the U.S life with that of the poverty stricken Somalis.

    I thought the acting was excellent. Not over the top, but subtle and real feeling.

    As far as the expense of the Navy rescue, I was more upset by the thought that the captured pirate like so many other war and terrorist criminals were transported, tried, and eventually incarcerated in the U.S. at great expense to the U.S. taxpayer. I'd rather see a military trial at the point of capture and an execution on site or a release of the perpetrator if found inculpable. That was the only point that riled me a bit. I couldn't help but think of all the millions that American taxpayers dish out to hold prisoners in Guantanamo and other prisons.

    But aside from that I thought this was a wonderful film that made me root for the USA and more interesting than some of the superhero and scifi CGI laden garbage that we've been getting dumped on us. We need real heroes and not fantasy heroes.

    Maybe you were in a crappy mood when you went to see this. Or maybe the bargain theater had floors that were too sticky and seats too uncomfortable? Don't know, but I didn't have any of the reactions your review expressed.

    But it was a passionate and entertaining review as always.

    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  20. I wondered how this could be a movie, too.

  21. This one stayed in Vermont theaters a bit longer than most because, of course, Captain Phillips is from Vermont. We haven't seen it - don't think we really need to.

  22. Lee: I'm not actually sure what you mean as to the politics, because I didn't have any points against (or for) the film based on politics. I just thought it was a boring movie with adequate (but not excellent) acting.

    However, bringing up the politics, I do have a problem with the fact that we would rather deal with the symptoms of piracy (like killing the guys involved in this kidnapping) rather than dealing with the warlords that force this behavior on the people involved.
    Not that that has anything to do with the movie.

    Nigel: Not very well, evidently.

    TAS: I can't see why anyone would -need- to see this one since it doesn't really present any kind of new information or alternate perspective.