Each year, the New York Film Festival celebrates the best in movies including major releases, independent works and thought-provoking documentaries. Highlighting this year’s slate of offerings is the opening night selection, Captain Phillips, in theaters on Oct. 11.

 

As the opening feature of this year’s New York Film Festival, Captain Phillips would command attention no matter its merits. The introductory slot of this prestigious event becomes a platform for many ambitious films, from The Social Network to The Life of Pi in recent years.

This new film from director Paul Greengrass will attract audiences in any venue for how it captures the lessons of actual events without getting trapped by their details. Greengrass sets the standard for the festival (that runs through Oct. 13) as well as the rest of our movie year.

For Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips offers another opportunity to play a character at the center of a significant historical moment. As he did as an astronaut in peril in Apollo 13, and a citizen soldier with a mission in Saving Private Ryan, Hanks brings his trademarked everyman persona to a complex role of a man overwhelmed by events.

As comfortable as he may appear as this down-to-earth sea captain, however, Hanks opens himself emotionally as we have not seen in years. The actor examines this man’s ability to handle fear in his most absorbing performance since winning his first Oscar for Philadelphia in 1993, reminding us what a gifted, disciplined actor he can be, careful enough never to show effort, natural enough to make moments feel real.

As he said at the festival, “I knew that if we told the story thematically, we would be accurate. But if we manufactured moments we would violate what actually happened.”

Hanks benefits from Greengrass as a director. This daring filmmaker, best known for his look at September 11, 2011, in United 93, again brings history to life with the creativity of an artist and the discipline of a documentarian. For this film, the situation is made for the movies. A commercial ship, carrying a load of products and supplies, is kidnapped off the coast of Africa by a band of pirates. Before you begin to imagine visions of Johnny Depp, picture these criminals as serious criminals who, despite their gaffes in executing the crime, are earnest in their plans to collect millions from the “haves” of the world. Their efforts to seize the ship begin a tense battle between two commanders to determine who will last longer.

The film compels because Greengrass focuses on the intense relationship between Hanks, as the captain of the boat, and Barkhad Abdi, as the leader of the pirates. The director avoids a traditional narrative to examine what drives each man to refuse to be the first to break.

As Greengrass said at the festival, “We had to tell the truth, and find the human story, without becoming too sentimental.” He makes careful choices that drive the creative integrity of the film, from his refusal to rely on computer generation to “fill in” visuals and, instead, to actually shoot at sea. This is not a film about heroes and villains; Greengrass simply tells a story of what people do to get through the day to finish what they are assigned. Some are pirates; others are employees.

Again each year, the New York Film Festival initiates the serious chatter of award-worthy movies. When we consider the achievements of 2013, Captain Phillips will be difficult to surpass. Rarely do we experience such a human story, told in this authentic way, featuring an actor at the peak of his powers, and a director who understands what a camera can capture.

 

Film Nutritional Value

* Content: High. Captain Phillips reminds us what we accomplish when we focus on the people in a situation, not merely the actions they take.

* Entertainment: High. Paul Greengrass, a director with a stunning visual sense, keeps the narrative clean and the visuals compelling by focusing on the characters.

* Message: High. The film challenges us to look at ourselves, what we fear, and how we would hope to handle a serious personal threat.

* Relevance: High. Any chance to learn more about the human spirit – especially the courage displayed by everyday heroes – is essential.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your children about the choices that people must make in such situations.

 

Captain Phillips is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and substance use”. It runs 134 minutes.

5 Popcorn Buckets