The Gravity of Captain Phillips

October 16, 2013

The Gravity of Captain Phillips

Within a week of each other, I have seen two terrific movies about Americans facing mortal crises on ships far, from home.

Gravity, starting Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, is an eye-grabbing masterpiece of the imagery of jeopardy.  Bullock plays an astronaut marooned in earth orbit by the destruction of every friend, shelter and oxygen supply available to her.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has already addressed certain improbabilities in Hollywood’s portrayal of low orbit physics, so I need not chime in here.  I always feel like I’m punching above my educational weight when I read his essays anyway.

The vertiginous nature of near-earth space is as gut-wrenching for the Gravity audience as it was for Bullock’s endearingly queasy Ryan Stone.  The effects of a killer debris cloud whipping around the earth, perforating and smashing everything and everyone to rubble and ruin, are simply breathtaking.  I bet an Academy Award for effects is a certainty.  If you watch this film in 3D Imax as I did, you will not be able to take your eyes off the screen.  Yes, the screen is everywhere, but the pace of the action is utterly relentless.  Even in the moments when Bullock/Stone is simply speaking, often to herself, to mission control, to her lost comrades, or to her long departed little girl, your heartstrings are still getting the Jimi Hendrix treatment.  You will not regret investing in your seat to see this film!

Americans on Troubled Ships Far From Home

Americans on Troubled Ships Far From Home

Tom Hanks portrays the everyman Captain Phillips just trying to get his container ship past Somalia to Mombasa.  The pirate called Muse, brilliantly wrought by American-Somali actor Barkhad Abdi, has ransom in mind.  A friend said that her heart began to pound about fifteen minutes into Captain Phillips, and never slowed until the end.  She also said that for a big budget movie, it was perfect.  High praise indeed, and well-deserved.  My only gripe is the insistent nature of the musical score at dramatically tense moments.  Let Tom Hanks act, I say, without all the pressured sound.  Hank’s most brilliant scene, perhaps ever, comes when he was being examined by a female Navy corpsman.  There, finally, comes the fast unwinding of Phillips’s wracking stress and fear.  An incredible scene, and an excellent movie.If these two great films are taken together, you might never want to leave your house again, even if you had scads of space-tourist dollars to burn.

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  • JW

    Great commentary on both films! Hit the nail on the head about Tom Hanks scene with the corpsman…perfection in acting!