Movie reviews: Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips ****

Movie reviews: Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks has forged a hugely successful career from playing a resourceful Everyman, and he excels again in Captain Phillips (12A), starring as the eponymous captain of a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates off the east coast of Africa. The movie opens with Phillips packing for his latest trip, dropping his wife (Catherine Keener) to work, and fretting over the minutiae of domestic life. As soon as he arrives on board his ship, however, he becomes a different man: focused, driven and commanding. This ability to segue between personality types is crucial to his survival when his ship is attacked. Based on a true story — the MV Maersk Alabama was the first American ship to be hijacked in over 200 years — and directed by Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips represents a fascinating character study. Greengrass is perhaps best known for his work on the Bourne movies, and the action sequences are expertly handled, particularly when the pirates first target the MV Maersk in an exhilarating cat-and-mouse chase. Where the movie really scores is in the psychological clash between Phillips and his opposite number, the pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi), which quickly escalates into a high-stakes battle of wills with many lives on the line. While our sympathies may lie with Phillips and his crew, the movie does attempt to explore the pirates’ motivation and the reasons why they are so desperate as to risk attacking vast cargo ships in their flimsy boats. Ultimately, Captain Phillips succeeds as an action flick that places two thoughtful, intelligent men in an impossible situation and then repeatedly turns the screw. Abdi, making his debut, is very impressive, but Hanks steals the show.

His untimely death earlier this year means that much of the conversation around writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said (12A) will revolve around James Gandolfini, who plays Albert, a shambling slob whom Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a masseuse, meets at a party. Gandolfini is in superb form as a gentle giant, but the film is concerned with women and their relationships: just as the divorced Eva embarks on a tentative romance with Albert, she takes on Marianne (Catherine Keener) as a new client, only to discover that Albert is Marianne’s ex-husband. A contemporary comedy of manners, Enough Said is a funny, touching and thoughtful tale that trades on our culture’s unreasonable expectations of relationships for its humour, and boasts strong performances from a cast that also includes Toni Collette and Ben Falcone as a bickering married couple.

No dream too big, no dreamer too small. The Dreamworks animation Turbo (G) features a garden snail, Turbo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), who wants to race in the Indy 500, despite the fact that he usually moves at roughly four yards per fortnight. One freak accident later, however, and Turbo is travelling at race-car speed, with his long-suffering brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) dragged along in his wake. Despite the heavyweight voice talent — which includes Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph and Richard Jenkins — Turbo boasts a slight enough storyline, although the excellent animation and vibrant visuals go some way to compensating for a narrative that is as straightforward as the Indy 500 itself. My five-year-old movie screening consultant declared it ‘grrrrreat!’.

Escape Plan (12A) stars Sylvester Stallone as Ray Breslin, a man who has made a career on escaping from maximum security prisons. Commissioned by the CIA to try to escape from a new off-the-grid facility Breslin finds himself in a nightmarish scenario in which his own identity has been erased. Teaming up with fellow inmate Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Breslin sets out to escape from a prison designed to his own exacting standards. Escape Plan is an old-fashioned tale of the plucky inmate who defies a sadistic prison warden (played here by Jim Caviezel) to prove his innocence. Stallone and Schwarzenegger create a decent chemistry. If you’re prepared to suspend your disbelief from the highest rafters, this is big, dumb fun.

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