Reel Reviews

‘Captain Phillips’

A-III -- adults


Watch Trailer

More Movie Reviews


A review of the new movie ‘Captain Phillips’

By David DiCerto

Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it any better. Director Paul Greengrass’ fact-based “Captain Phillips” has all the elements of a riveting high seas thriller: a desperate hero – played by Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks – gun-toting pirates and a daring rescue by Navy SEALs.

And yet the film is so much more.

Hanks plays the eponymous Capt. Richard Phillips, a veteran seafarer whose freight ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked in 2009 by Somalian pirates en route to Mombasa, Kenya, to deliver, among other cargo, humanitarian aid, including supplies from Catholic Relief Services.

Based on Phillips’ maritime memoir “A Captain’s Duty,” the film is actually two movies in one, told in three acts.

The first part details, with harrowing realism, the raid by an armed band of Somalian fishermen-turned-buccaneers, at the bidding of a local warlord.

In one of several gripping sequences, the pirates’ motorized skiffs close in on the much larger freighter, like a pack of killer whales attacking their prey.

Once onboard, they seize control of the bridge, holding Phillips and two crew members at gunpoint, while the remainder of the crew evades capture by hiding in the ship’s bowels. Through calm action and fast thinking, Phillips manages to keep himself and his crew alive long enough to broker a deal, surrendering himself as a hostage to go with the pirates in a pod-like lifeboat, if they depart.

The film then shifts gears, becoming something more than just a game of high seas hide-and-seek, focusing on the tense life-and-death interplay – both physical and psychological – between Phillips and his captors, as they make their way across hundreds of miles of open water back towards Somalia, where they plan to hold him for ransom. The claustrophobic confines of the pod calls to mind Hank’s work in Ron Howard’s 1995 “Apollo 13,” though perhaps the adrift-at-sea scenario makes the actor’s turn in 2000’s “Castaway” a better comparison – at least here he has the pirates to talk to rather than a volleyball.

The narrative then gets swept into an action current in act three, when a Navy vessel, the USS Bainbridge, engages the pirates, setting the stage for the high-stakes rescue by a team of SEALs, played by actual former Special Forces personnel for added authenticity.

Interestingly, the commanding officer of the Bainbridge, Capt. Francis Castellano, who, played by Yul Vasquez, features prominently in the rescue efforts, is a longtime member of the Knights of Columbus. Phillips is also a Catholic who was welcomed by his parish when he returned home safely.

The standout performance by Somali-born Barkhad Abdi as the skeletal pirate ringleader, Muse, brings a raw intensity and credibility to this phase of the film. Abdi, who was driving taxis in Minnesota before being cast in his first film role, more than holds his own against the two-time Oscar winner, though both deserve serious consideration come awards season.

Greengrass, best known for his directorial work in the “Bourne” franchise and the 9/11 docudrama “United 93,” navigates some tricky waters in presenting the motives and humanity of the pirates. In interviews, he has stated that his intention was not to justify the actions of the pirates but to examine global realities that may tragically drive young men to take such desperate actions. He doesn’t whitewash their ruthlessness or absolve them of blame, but, by showing the impoverished conditions in which they live, he refuses to demonize them or resort to villainous caricatures. What results is much more complex and thought provoking.

“There’s got to be something more than kidnapping people?” Phillips asks at one point.

“Maybe in America… maybe in America,” Muse mutters despairingly.

You get the tragic sense that Muse is well aware of the wrongness of his actions, though freely choosing them. His eyes betray a moral conflict within, but sadly they cannot see any hope in a landscape defined by poverty and violence.

On one level, the film is a rollicking adventure – the final half-hour is heart-pounding. Greengrass injects the same gritty realism that worked so effectively for him in the “Bourne” series, forgoing Hollywood polish for a more white-knuckle immediacy.

But these waters go much deeper. “Captain Phillips” is also about maintaining your humanity and compassion under the most terrifying and trying circumstances.

“You gott’a be strong to survive out there,” Phillips tells his wife at the opening.

In responding to evil, Phillips displays a strength driven by solicitude as much as survival, one that never loses sight of his captors’ humanity, even tending to the wounds of one of the younger brigands. His simple act of charity is met in kind at a later point when the young man surreptitiously gives a parched Phillips a drink of water.

Up until the final rescue Phillips is trying to plead with them to rethink their actions, knowing that it can only end badly for them. In this nuance, the movie offers an alternative to the comic book heroism that dominated the multiplex over the summer, reminding us that not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes heroism demands a different type of courage, the courage of the cross, a truly heroic courage to forgive even those who persecute you.

Though a rosary dangles from Phillips car mirror, prayer doesn’t factor into his ordeal, at least not explicitly. He is, however, shown to be a devoted family man – a heart-rending acknowledgment of that love punctuating a primal scream at the film’s climactic moment.

You are glad that Phillips is saved, but there is not what you would call a happy ending. The action climaxes in violence – brief, but deadly efficient – that leaves Phillips in shock, unable to speak, which is appropriate since violence, even when justified as in this case, always entails a failure to communicate, a failure of shared humanity. The ending is ambiguous – and perhaps that is exactly the way it should be.

The film contains numerous menacing sequences, several violent episodes with nongraphic bloody images, substance abuse, two instances of profanity and three uses of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

David DiCerto is a Catholic film critic and co-host of Reel Faith, a Catholic movie review show televised by New Evangelization Television.


A-I – general patronage


Watch Trailer

More Movie Reviews


High-flying family fun

Having conquered the world of “Cars,” Disney waves its anthropomorphic wand skyward in “Planes,” a delightful 3-D animated adventure.

From a clever, pun-filled script by Jeffrey M. Howard, “Planes” excels on two, well, planes. The animation dazzles with exhilarating air races over beautiful scenery, while the entertaining plot offers good lessons for kids about friendship and overcoming obstacles.

Dusty (voice of Dane Cook) is a spirited crop-duster who dreams of something better: a dazzling career as a high-flying racer. It’s a classic underdog story, with naysayers at every turn in the small town of Propwash Junction.

“I just hope to be better than what I was built for,” Dusty dreams.

He’s fast, despite being a single-prop plane, but Dusty has a potentially fatal flaw: He’s afraid of heights. That’s not normally a problem, as crop dusters fly low and slow.

Determined to succeed, he persuades Skipper Riley (voice of Stacy Keach), a crusty veteran of wartime air battles, to train him for the “Wings Around the Globe” race. His non-aircraft support team includes Chug (voice of Brad Garrett), an advice-dispensing fuel truck, and Dottie (voice of Teri Hatcher), a sassy forklift and whiz mechanic.

Dusty qualifies, and is pitted against the best planes in the world. The international cast includes Bulldog (voice of John Cleese), a stuffy British flyer; Rochelle (voice of Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a comely French-Canadian racer; El Chupacabra (voice of Carlos Alazraqui), a Mexican lover boy who only has eyes for Rochelle; and Ishani (voice of Priyanka Chopra), an exotic Indian flyer.

The racer to beat is fellow Yankee Ripslinger (voice of Roger Craig Smith), a devious Mustang who would rather crash and burn than be beaten by an upstart “farm boy.”

“Planes" zooms across the globe, from America to Europe, across the Himalayas, past China and over the Pacific to Mexico, rendering familiar sights along the way.

Adults will enjoy the many sight gags and puns. Fans follow the race on “FlewTube” using their “skyPads.” The much-maligned, cowlike tractors who were tipped over in “Cars” are elevated to sacred status in India and roam freely. The aircraft carrier that comes to Dusty’s rescue is the U.S.S. Dwight D. Flysenhower.

Aside from some action sequences – including stormy weather and a wartime flashback – which might cause turbulence for the youngest aviators in the audience, “Planes” is just the ticket for the entire family.

The film contains a few perilous situations. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By Joseph McAleer Catholic News Service 

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (November)


Across the Divide, A-II (no rating)

The Awakening, A-III (R)


Baggage Claim, A-III (PG-13)

Battle of the Year, A-III (PG-13)

Blue Jasmine, L (PG-13)

Bully, A-III (PG-13)


Captain Phillips, A-III (PG-13)

Carrie, L (R)

Closed Circuit, A-III (R)

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, A-II (PG)

The Counselor, O (R)


Despicable Me 2, A-I (PG)

Dream House, L (PG-13)

Don John, O (R)


Elysium, L (R)

Ender's Game, A-II (PG-13)

Escape Plan, L (R)


The Family, O (R)

Fast & Furious 6, L (PG-13)

The Fifth Estate, A-III (R)

Frances Ha, L (R)

Free Birds, A-I (PG)


Getaway, A-III (PG-13

The Grandmaster, A-III (PG-13)

Gravity, A-III (PG-13)

The Great Gatsby, A-III (PG-13)

Grown Ups 2, A-III (PG-13)


The Hangover Part III, L (R)


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, L (PG-13)

Insidious: Chapter 2, A-III (PG-13)


Jack the Giant Slayer, A-II (PG-13)

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, O (R)

Jobs, A-III (PG-13)


Kick-Ass 2, O (R)

Killer Elite, A-III (R)


The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)

Last Vegas, A-III (PG-13)

Lee Daniels' The Butler, A-III (PG-13)

The Lone Ranger, L (PG-13)


Machete Kills, O (R)

Man of Steel, A-III (PG-13)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, A-III (PG-13)

Much Ado About Nothing, A-III (PG-13)


One Direction: This Is Us, A-II (PG)


Paranoia, A-III (PG-13)

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, A-III (PG)

Phantom, A-III (R)

The Place Beyond the Pines, L (R)

Planes, A-I (G)

Prisoners, L (R)


Quartet, A-III (PG-13)


RED 2, A-III (PG-13)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, A-III (R)

Restless Heart, A-II (no rating)

Riddick, O (R)

Runner Runner, L (R)

Rush, L (R)


Skyfall, A-III (PG-13)

The Smurfs 2, A-I (PG)

Something Borrowed, L (PG-13)

The Spectacular Now, L (R)


Turbo, A-I (PG)

2 Guns, L (R)

Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, A-III (PG-13)


Warm Bodies, A-III (PG-13)

We're the Millers, O (R)

White House Down, A-III (PG-13)

The Wolverine, A-III (PG-13)

The World's End, A-III (R)


You're Next, O (R)

MPAA ratings: G – general audiences. All ages admitted; PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17 – no one 17 and under admitted.