Troubled Waters 

Captain Phillips is sunk by its racial stereotypes.

Captain Phillips might be too racially dim-witted to take seriously.

True, director Paul Greengrass clearly doesn't want anyone to pay too much attention to his film's racial dynamic; he's much more focused on refining his irritating cinematic technique. Both early and late in the film, Greengrass' choppy, disorienting hand-held camera intensifies some suspenseful encounters. Yet his take on the real-life ordeal of a commercial cargo ship captain (Tom Hanks) whose freighter is hijacked by Somali pirates demands a greater level of moral and political seriousness than he is willing to give it.

On one hand, there are enough examples of simplistic, insulting racial stereotypes in Captain Phillips to make a strong case that this movie is, whether intentionally or unintentionally, kinda racist. On the other hand, previous Greengrass films like United 93 are fairly clumsy and indifferent about characterization but really gung-ho about presenting things like the logistical details of government-backed rescue missions. Are the film's thin characterizations then excusable as symptoms of a general — and color-blind — artistic failing?

Greengrass believes that man doing is synonymous with man being, which puts him in good company. The straightforward presentation of human action, when complemented by the notion that human nature is stubbornly opaque, is part of a rich cinematic tradition. In the hands of contemporary filmmakers like Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne — whose The Kid With a Bike was one of 2012's best films — these two ideas combine to illuminate the ways in which action defines character. What's more is that the Dardennes' techniques and ideas support each other completely.

In contrast, it requires much vigorous and vigilant self-deception to stay emotionally invested in Captain Phillips without wincing at both its ragged visual style and its increasingly cartoonish portrayal of bad black boys. By the end of the movie, one pirate's gigantic pop eyes and regular fits of rage make him look like a Sambo figurine gone berserk; another one, while somewhat three-dimensional, becomes a heartless foreign invader not unlike the Martians in Mars Attacks! The third pirate is Forrest Gump-like in his naivete and confusion. The fourth is invisible, forgettable.

There is evidence of some larger design at work: Few films can do as much as Captain Phillips can with its variations of the phrase "everything's going to be okay." But Greengrass' reluctance to look too hard or too closely at the subtexts of his maritime Dog Day Afternoon eventually sinks it.

Captain Phillips
Now playing
Multiple locations

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite
Captain Phillips
Rated PG-13 · 134 min. · 2013
Official Site: www.captainphillipsmovie.com
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer: Billy Ray
Producer: Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Max Martini, Chris Mulkey, John Magaro, Maria Dizzia, Michael Chernus, David Warshofsky, Rey Hernandez and Yul Vazquez

Trailer


Now Playing

Captain Phillips is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Comments (9)

Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Wildlife

      Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are a couple in crisis in Paul Dano’s directorial debut.
    • The Old Man And The Gun

      Robert Redford retires at the top of his game
    • Bohemian Rhapsody

      The Glossy Biopic Can’t Live Up To Freddy Mercury’s Legend

Blogs

Tiger Blue

Tigers 28, SMU 18

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies Defeat Kings 112-104

Hungry Memphis

Zopita's on the Square to open Nov. 19

We Saw You

Indie Film Fest, Grilled Cheese Fest, Adapt-A-Door and more!

Hungry Memphis

Little Italy Opening Downtown

News Blog

Seven Vie for Vacant District 1 Council Seat

News Blog

Group of White Women Test Mall’s No Hoodie Policy

Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

Hungry Memphis

Gordon Ramsay's in Memphis to Save a Restaurant!

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Addison Engelking

Readers also liked…

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation