Based on a True Story Captain Phillips

Seaworthy DVD Review: Captain Phillips

January 21, 2014Ben MK

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High tension on the high seas

By Ben Mk

Best known for helming the last two thirds of the Jason Bourne trilogy, director Paul Greengrass had mixed success with his two follow-up films, Green Zone and United 93. But he's back in form with his latest effort, Captain Phillips, based on the harrowing true story that made headlines around the world in 2009 — that of Captain Richard Phillips, whose cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, and who took it upon himself to protect the ship and the lives of its crew, even risking his own life and allowing himself to be taken captive.

Captain Phillips isn't just a story of courage and survival; it highlights a very real and global problem: piracy. When Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) embarks on his latest assignment, taking the Maersk Alabama and its cargo — including thousands of tons of relief supplies destined for Africa — from Oman to Mombasa, he's appreciative of the risks. But no amount of emergency drills can fully prepare the crew of the Alabama for the events that begin to unfold when they find themselves being pursued by pirate skiffs off the Somalian coast. Despite their best efforts to fend off their pursuers, four men armed with AK-47s manage to board their ship, and Phillips is put in the tough position of negotiating with the hijackers. Ultimately, that means getting them off the Alabama and onto one of its lifeboats; but even that comes at a price, when he's taken hostage aboard the cramped vessel as the hijackers steer it back to Somalia. From there on out, Phillips' rescue becomes the object of a substantial US military operation, involving multiple ships — including the naval destroyer, the USS Bainbridge — and manpower — including the elite SEAL Team Six (the very same SEAL team that played a key role in the events dramatized by Zero Dark Thirty).

Director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) weave a compelling tale of bravery and desperation, as they navigate the choppy waters of the hijacking turned hostage crisis. Like Greengrass' previous directing work on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, Captain Phillips is thick with gripping, nail-biting sequences that effectively sell the danger of the situation — perhaps even more so than those two films. Hanks nails the vocal mannerisms of his real-life counterpart in an emotionally enthralling performance that's perfectly counterbalanced by the performances of the four actors who play the Somali hijackers — in particular that of Barkhad Abdi, who portrays the group's overzealous leader, Muse. The film isn't one-sided either, showing both sides of the story and imparting a real sense of pathos on the character arcs of the four men.

The cinematography of the film, lensed by Barry Ackroyd, features Greengrass' characteristic shaky cam visual style; and lighting conditions vary wildly, from the sunlit exteriors aboard the Maersk Alabama, to the murky depths of its lower decks and the blue-lit control room of the USS Bainbridge. Throughout it all, the disc's transfer faithfully reproduces the film's visual aesthetic with consistent clarity. Though it's a forgone conclusion that it's bested by its high definition counterpart, as far as standard definition transfers go, this one is quite excellent. Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is immersive, rendering the film's soundstage very effectively — especially the tension-building score by Henry Jackman, which is often times evocative of John Powell's scoring of the Bourne trilogy.

The DVD release of Captain Phillips is one of those rare discs that retains the full complement of special features present on the Blu-ray version, including an audio commentary with director Paul Greengrass and the aptly-titled Capturing Captain Phillips, an hour-long documentary in three parts that chronicles the making of the film. Comprised of featurettes entitled Embarkation, Full Ahead and Stand Fast, Capturing Captain Phillips is an insightful examination of the shooting of the film — in particular, Greengrass' shooting style, filming on open water aboard the Maersk Alabama's sister ship, the Alexander Maersk, and filming the skiff and lifeboat scenes — and features interviews with key members of the cast and crew, including Greengrass and the real Richard Phillips. A digital copy code rounds out the set of special features, entitling purchasers of the disc to an Ultraviolet copy of the film.

Drawing from real-life drama more gripping than any Hollywood screenwriter could ever imagine, Captain Phillips does more than just paint a heroic portrait of its titular character; it engenders empathy for its antagonists by revealing the desperation in their hearts. The film itself is as intense and engaging as any of Greengrass' contributions to the Bourne series, and the disc provides the kind of quality A/V experience that will sweep home audiences up in the whirlwind drama. For those who seek to find out more about the backstory and the making of the film, the disc's special features are equally satisfying. Overall, Captain Phillips on DVD is a winner.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★½

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