Film reviews: Captain Phillips | The Fifth Estate

Mahat Ali, Tom Hanks and Faysal Ahmed in Captain Phillips. Picture: Contributed
Mahat Ali, Tom Hanks and Faysal Ahmed in Captain Phillips. Picture: Contributed
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ODD to think that one of Hollywood’s most richly rewarded stars has spent most of his life playing everymen, but perhaps Tom Hanks stays there because he gives hope to the real everyguys who can only daydream of kissing Meg Ryan, going into space or almost surviving the Second World War.

Captain Phillips (12A)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Running time: 134 minutes

* * *

Hanks’ characters are men who rise to a challenge, and in Captain Phillips that means not only tackling Somalian pirates but steering a route through Paul Greengrass’s rather clumsy movie.

Based on the first hijacking of a US cargo ship in 200 years, Hanks plays the captain of an enormous container ship about to head into dangerous waters.

Driving to the airport, Phillips frets to his wife about their son’s inability to keep pace with the modern world, before concluding that it’s going to be all right. It’s also a clunky way of telegraphing global anxiety, plus First World complacency.

Just as bald is the moment when Phillips slowly and carefully reads an e-mail about sea piracy which is obviously intended for us, not him. When some rapid blips on the ship’s radar turn out to be skiffs with machine-gun-waving Somalis on board, the only surprise is that they haven’t named one of the boats “The Jolly Roger”.

Yet while director Paul Greengrass and writer Billy Ray aren’t very fancy when it comes to set-up, the film picks up as it moves from land to the open seas to the claustrophobia of a small lifeboat in three acts. At times the film is almost pure situation. Fortunately, while Hanks may be the name that sells Captain Phillips, he’s not the only interesting presence on screen.

Somalian first-time actor Barkhad Abdi plays Muse, the leader of the pirates, as young and gaunt as Phillips is grey and pudgy. But they are evenly matched for a battle of wits.

Muse is after a $10 million ransom, Phillips tries to haggle it down to $30,000. Both have crews to reassure, and bosses to answer to.

They try bluff and counterbluff, mateyness and mild threat. “No al-Qaeda here, just business,” says the Somalian leader, until the hijacking unravels and becomes a hostage situation instead, with the US navy joining the crisis.

Trained in documentaries, and best known for nerve-jangling docudramas like United 93 and the highly charged second and third Bourne films, Paul Greengrass likes to use all the techniques and tropes of currently accepted realism at his disposal, which includes multi-sourced sound, non-professional actors and an awful lot of shoogly handheld camerawork that risks a certain degree of seasickness.

Admittedly, shakeycam is Greengrass’s calling card, just as suspense is associated with Hitchcock and tinnitus with Michael Bay. Even so, I wish Greengrass would consider other ways of applying a sense of chaos to his films, because it’s starting to feel less like a trademark and more like a security blanket.

All the steady work here comes from the two leads, whose transparency and likeability help bulk out underwritten characters. The going gets a bit choppy at times, but Hanks and Abdi still make this a voyage worth taking.

The Fifth Estate (15)

* *

Julian Assange: silver-fox freedom fighter or cyber-creep? Alex Gibney’s overlong but fascinating We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks set out both arguments then left us to do the maths. Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate is as gripping as watching the woman on Countdown trying to make random numbers add up.

At first Assange appears a plausible information warrior, publishing leaks about the BNP, dodgy banks and the Church of Scientology, only to be revealed as a reckless egoist.

Benedict Cumberbatch (right) nails the Assange voice from underneath the kind of bleached wigs once worn by Peggy Lee. If only The Fifth Estate wasn’t such a pale imitation of journalism, with the vulpine Peter Capaldi cast as the Harry Potterish Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, hacks downing tools to make speeches about their principles, and no-one getting nagged about the whereabouts of the end-of-month travel expenses.

An additional irony is that The Fifth Estate doesn’t seem to have any gift for storytelling. Josh Singer’s screenplay might as well have been written by computer, with a disappointed former collaborator (Daniel Brühl), sidelined girlfriends and a lot of furious keyboard tapping.

The film perks when there’s an opportunity to animate computing into cinematic whooshes of activity, but its drama remains a go-slow plod of exposition speed bumps, obvious psychological profiling and brief oblique references to Assange’s dubious way with women.

Turbo (U)

* * *

A snail (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) dreams of escaping the daily grind of the slow lane by becoming a Nascar racer. The plot has a lot in common with Cars, but it’s cheerful, nicely animated and child-friendly, provided your child is realistic about the relationship between crows and snails.

On general release from Friday

The Lebanese Rocket Society (PG)

* * *

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige document a 1960s science club which spawned a rocket programme in the Lebanon. Achievements include home-brewed rocket fuel, and the first Arab space launch, near Beirut. Surprising and beguiling.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday until 21 October

Enough Said (12A)

* * *

In this engaging romantic comedy about the middle aged singles scene, a neurotic divorcee (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) falls for James Gandolfini’s awkward academic. It’s pleasantly funny in the style of a mid-range Woody Allen, but also a sad reminder that we lost Gandolfini, right, far too soon.

On general release from Friday

Like Father Like Son (PG)

* * *

Two families are forced to swap their six-year-old sons following the belated discovery of a hospital mix-up at birth in Hirokazu Koreeda’s rather predictable and sentimental parable about social engineering. The kids are great though.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday until 24 October

Romeo And Juliet (PG)

* *

William Shakespeare’s love story directed by Carlo Carlei stars Douglas Booth as Romeo and Hailee Steinfeld and Juliet, with Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes souping up and dumbing-down the text (“spit it out” urges one venerable Italian). Damian Lewis has a rare old time as Lord Capulet, but he’s a brief spark in a pretty lifeless production. Drinking poison has never seemed so tempting.

On general release