Captain Phillips

captain-phillips-international-posterWhen four Somali pirates board an American distribution vessel at sea, Captain Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) must outsmart the armed gunmen in order to keep his crew safe from harm.  While the pirates look to steer the ship back to Somalia for a hefty payday, Phillips attempts to keep the villains squarely under his thumb while his men hidden below deck conjure up a plan to eliminate the threat.

Paul Greengrass generates great suspense as he has done with his previous efforts in the Bourne series and United 93.  He slowly turns the screws and allows Hanks and his generous gifts as an actor to pull the audience into a terrifying hostage situation.  It all feels authentic and true to the moment. It’s a desperate situation for a group of union laborers treading dangerous waters and we identify with the struggle and Hanks’ character caught in the middle.

Hanks hasn’t had a movie this good in a while, and in fact, the movie pulls him out of his usual comfort range, and plants him firmly into an intense thriller environment.  His character displays strong leadership, intuition, and fear.  But Greengrass also allows the Somalis some human dimension as well and in many ways he illuminates their do-or-die attempt to claim the ship, because if they don’t, their ‘elders’ will likely kill them.

Based on a true story, the movie dismisses the usual impulses to turn into an outlandish action picture.  I’m sure there’s the occasional spottiness for theatrics, but I consistently felt a pulsing reality to the film’s events.  Captain Phillips is a very thrilling drama and comes highly recommended.

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Green Zone

Paul Greengrass, the frenetic action-director at the helm of “Green Zone” can’t seem to catch a break.  “United 93,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Director a few years ago, hit the skids with moviegoers because the material was too soon.  Now critics are stepping all over “Green Zone” for being too late.  In reality, the film is a fact-fiction wrestling match full of smarts, thrills, and intensity.  It’s too bad the film must suffer the fate of being compared to the recent Best Picture-winner “The Hurt Locker” and the other Damon-Greengrass collaborations of the last two Bourne installments, because–of course–this film shrinks in comparison.  “Green Zone” is still a favorable action movie, and the best non-science fiction action film in the last few months.

Matt Damon, all heart here, plays Roy Miller, a U.S. Army team leader in the early stages of the Iraq invasion during the 2003 hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction.  To Miller’s surprise, his team finds three targeted sites without any weapons. Where is the intelligence coming from and where are the W.M.D.’s?  Getting his feet a little too wet, Miller takes it upon himself to find out the truth as to the validity of the government’s so-called sources.

Much of “Green Zone” simply makes for standard procedure with characters and dialogue unraveling in a conspiracy we know all too well.  The fact that the movie takes place almost seven years ago doesn’t make it any less relevant today.  It helps to take this retrospective approach and see the damage that was done after the fact.  Did “Band of Brothers” have any relevance in 2002, or “We Were Soldiers”?  I don’t think relevancy is a fair argument.  Even though this is a political-agenda film through-and-through, it’s also a well-executed thriller with superb craftsmanship, stellar camera-work, ratcheted tension, and questionable editing.  Luckily, Greengrass’ choppy trademark doesn’t become too much of a distraction here in the hand-to-hand combat.   In fact, much of the movie excels because the drama is always heightened to such a degree, that any ties to realism cease to matter, and we get caught up in the suspense of the fast-paced action.  Matt Damon is the perfect heart to Green Zone’ s brain.  He makes the film’s coincidental one-man heroics amidst a web of government conspiracy feel engaging if not plausible.  Smart, entertaining action could be this weekend’s hot button, and the Greengrass-Damon duo know how to press it.

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