“Captain Phillips” is the ultimate true tragedy-to-film adaptation. Rather than ride the “wow, this really happened” wave to an explosive finish, Paul Greengrass’ representation is so absorbing in and of itself, you won’t have an ounce of energy left for that until well after.
Tom Hanks is Richard Phillips, a cargo ship captain reporting to work for a new assignment, transporting a stock of relief supplies for Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya. While en route to Mombasa, the Maersk Alabama is boarded by four armed pirates determined to return home to Somalia with a sizable haul. With no cars or jewels, and little cash to give, it’s up to Phillips to keep the invaders from lashing out and harming his crew until, ultimately, he’s taken hostage himself.
When you’ve got a film that chronicles such a remarkable true story, it automatically gets a leg up. The material is intrinsically more profound because you know it’s the real deal. However, what makes “Captain Phillips” a standout in that sense is that the truth only comes into play before the film begins and after the credits roll because it functions as an all-consuming standalone piece. Then, once the material has sunk in, reconnecting with the idea that this series of events actually happened makes the whole experience all the more powerful.
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Usually when I catch a movie, I’m busy scribbling down notes, some of which pertain to the film’s plot, just so I’ve got the facts straight when writing the review. However, in the case of “Cloud Atlas,” not only did I want to save my hand all that stress, but thought it’d be interesting to see what stuck after the 164-minute multiple storyline epic without writing a single note or looking at the press notes. No book, no notes, no Googling. This is what I took from “Cloud Atlas.”
We’ve got quite a few characters and storylines in play here. There’s Tom Hanks’ Zachary, a man living in a village, fighting off a vicious enemy tribe while assisting Halle Berry’s space-age character in her quest to send a call for help to her home planet. In the 1800s, one of Jim Sturgess’ characters befriends an escaped slave while sailing home to his wife. In the early 1900s, Ben Whishaw’s Frobisher goes to work for a famous composer where he gets the inspiration to pen the Cloud Atlas Sextet. In the 1970s, Berry is a journalist who catches wind of a scandal and is chased by a corporation assassin trying to stop her from exposing the story. In the present we get Timothy Cavendish, a man who’s tricked into signing himself into an old age home by his brother. Finally, well into the future, we meet Sonmi, one of many identical robot-like humans who are made to staff a fast food restaurant. They’re designed to sleep in their boxes, wake and go to work, but one day, Sonmi can’t help, but to recognize that she’s got hopes, dreams and feelings.
I can’t believe it, but I think I actually managed to account for every “Cloud Atlas” scenario. Yes, they’re merely simplistic descriptions of the stories, but when you’ve got a total of six narratives within a single film that don’t connect on a literal level and are all playing out simultaneously, it’s a wonder how someone can keep track of them all after a single viewing. And perhaps that goes to show that writer-directors Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski did achieve a degree of success with their unusual methods.
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