Tag Archives: based on real events

Review – Captain Phillips (12a) [2013]

Captain Phillips - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Resurrected, Green Zone, Bourne II-III & V

Cast:

  • Tom Hanks – Philadelphia, Toy Story I-III, Saving Mr Banks
  • Catherine Keener – The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Into The Wild, Nailed
  • Barkhad Abdi – Eye In The Sky
  • Barkhad Abdirahman
  • Faysal Ahmed
  • Mahat M Ali
  • Michael Churnus – Love & Other Drugs, Men In Black III, Glass Chin
  • David Warshofsky – Public Enemies, Unstoppable, Now You See Me
  • John Megaro – The Big Short

Music Composer:

Piracy at sea is nothing new. Ships have been hijacked since the dawn of time and the problem is still rife in many parts of the world today. Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips shows us superbly what it can feel like when a ship gets taken over by a gang with guns.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the look out for pirates... and worried by how quickly they're advancing toward his ship.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the look out for pirates… and worried by how quickly they’re advancing toward his ship.

Captain Phillips is based on the true story which occurred in 2009 and the book, which came out the following year called A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, NAVY seals, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Captain Richard Phillips, himself. The film is about when the Maersk Alabama, a large cargo ship, is seized by Somali pirates near the Horn of Africa, and the crew are taken hostage.

The plot for Captain Phillips is straightforward, grounded and gets to the crux within 20 of its 134 minute running time. From them on the film is tense; so tense, one’s heart pounds in sync with the background beats, and one’s arms shake almost as much. Also, as the film is long, one feels as if the situation is being drawn out in real time. This is despite no lawyers appearing in the film, and little attention given to events behind the scenes in instances of hostages at sea (unlike the very good Danish film, A Hijacking).

The pirates on their little speed boat, eager to seize Maersk Alabama and gain a reward for it back in Somalia.

The pirates on their little speed boat, eager to seize Maersk Alabama and gain a reward for it back in Somalia.

That Somali piracy is a current and serious issue enhances the horror of the situation for Captain Rich Phillips and his crew, and the close up shots (Greengrass’ trademark) enable viewers to see the fear of captain and crew at hand. Although, there is a law suit presently being waged against Captain Phillips, claiming that the movie does not portray events aboard the Maersk Alabama in the run up and during the hijacking truthfully, the film feels (for the most part) chillingly realistic. Some may argue that the realism becomes less convincing as the movie goes on; for example, neither captain nor crew complain of hunger throughout the ordeal. But in the main, Captain Phillips seems sincere, irrespective of the outcome of the lawsuit.

Captain Phillips’ genuineness is helped by the pirates looking bloody scary and behaving in a frenzied fashion. Tom Hanks is likely to gain much of the plaudits come Oscar season, and his display is absolutely brilliant as the heroic (though this point is legally being disputed) and beleaguered captain; indeed, the grimmer the situation becomes, the better Hanks performs. However, the actors playing the pirates do just as much, if not more, to make the film as thrilling (stressful) as it is, since viewers are never sure how the pirates are going to react to movement on the ship, or outside of it.

The pirates, having taken the ship and Captain Phillips hostage, telling the captain that they're in charge.

The pirates, having taken the ship and Captain Phillips hostage, telling the captain that they’re in charge.

What is quite remarkable is that the film makes us empathise with the pirates’ predicament. Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M Ali, the four men playing the pirates (lacking all the glamour and savvy of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow or Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV), show us why some Somalis turn to piracy, as well as the problems that await them should they return home without large sums of money, or at least with a great bargaining chip to acquire large amounts of money. One almost comes to pity the pirates’ plight… but for the small matter of them holding a crew (and Tom Hanks) hostage.

All-in-all, Captain Phillips is a nerve-shredding, finger-biting thriller. Granted, the film almost exclusively focusses upon events on the ship and little else. But the movie is grounded and, regardless of its factual accuracy, it feels honest in every respect. Furthermore, Captain Phillips makes viewers experience the terror of modern-day pirates seizing a vessel at sea.

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Review – The Devil’s Double (18) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

It is common for dictators and those close to them to have doubles (look-alikes), so that they can be in two places at once. (Not to mention making it harder for their opponents to assassinate them). But what exactly do ‘doubles’ do with their days? Well, The Devil’s Double gives viewers a brutal hint.

Latif with Uday before he has some minor surgery. Thw two men bear a striking resemblance. After surgery, the two men could be identical twins.

The film is based on the true (but embellished) story of how Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper – Tamara Drewe, Captain America: The First Avenger, My Week With Marilyn) became a look-alike for Uday Hussein (also Dominic Cooper), the son of Saddam Hussein, the President (dictator) of Iraq, 1979-2003. The film is set between the late-1980s (during the latter years of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88) and up to December 1996.

Latif bears a striking resemblance to Uday. After some nasty threats and lashes, Latif agrees to become Uday’s double. Subsequently, Latif, to his disgust (and knowing that he could be shot on a whim at any moment), enters into Uday’s world of sadism, debauchery, drugs and murder. At what point will the ‘nice guy’ Latif draw the line?

The Devil’s Double makes for some gripping, if horrific, viewing. But, most noticeably, the film does not have much of a storyline. More often than not, scene after scene is just Latif following Uday to witness the latter’s next appalling act. Surprisingly though, this does not make the film any less absorbing to watch.

Latif being punished for not initially agreeing to become Uday's double.

The key reason for the movie being so engrossing is Dominic Cooper. The choreography may be jerky; the music may sound cheap and not totally in sync with the scenes; and the women may look distinctly Western and non-Arabic. Yet, particularly as Uday, Cooper makes the audience feel that their money has not been wasted. As Uday, Cooper plays an insane (in the true sense of the word), volatile, spoilt brat with an insatiable appetite for alcohol, drugs, women (of all ages) and malice. In almost every scene, Uday appears drunk, high and unpredictable. Uday makes us feel uneasy every time he appears on screen, which is a testament to Cooper’s acting abilities.

There is no doubt that Cooper plays well as Uday. But his performance is not quite in the same league as Christian Bale’s in The Fighter. This is because in The Devil’s Double, Uday is not given a third dimension. Also, from the film, one has little idea what Uday’s upbringing was like, or what his relationship was like with his father (which was apparently not great) and mother (whom he was supposedly close to), amongst other things. This is a real pity, as this could have shown Uday in a chillingly human light, as opposed to the animal that he is portrayed to be throughout the movie.

Whilst as Uday, Cooper is impressive, he is less so as Latif. This might be because Latif is too nice and normal relative to Uday. Nevertheless, one does not feel much sympathy for Latif, or his predicament. In this respect, Cooper could have done better. Then again, just as Uday has not been given much depth, nor has Latif. This is not Cooper’s fault. Rather, it is the fault of the director, Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, xXx 2: The Next Level, Next), who should have given his two main characters more depth, even at the expense of making the film a little longer. At only 106 minutes, he had the time to do this.

A common sight throughout the film - Uday holding a gun threateningly, with a girl (or two) around his waist. The girl here is Serrab (Ludivine Sagnier), supposedly his favourite.

Just as Uday and Latif lack complexity, so too do the other characters in The Devil’s Double, such as Munem (Raad Rawi – The Kingdom, Green Zone, Conan the Barbarian) and Kamel Hannah (Mem Ferda – Revolver, Legacy: Black Ops, Ill Manors), who are supposedly part of Saddam’s cruel regime. Too many of them, though, appear as ‘good guys in bad positions,’ which could not have been true. Repressive governments don’t exist because they’re packed with ‘good people’ under an ‘evil’ despot. Rather, they survive because they’re filled with murderous psychopaths, who are given positions to abuse (until they become victims of the system, of course). By doing this, Tamahori shamefully forsakes the chance to illustrate the true realities of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to the detriment of the movie.

All-in-all, The Devil’s Double may be crude and the epitome of its own title, but it gives us a glimpse of what life as a double to a nasty, sadistic individual could be like. Almost by himself, Dominic Cooper, playing two very different people, makes this utterly brutal film worth watching. The Devil’s Double is not one for the feint-hearted, and will leave even the strongest of people feeling uncomfortable by the end.

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Review – Sanctum 3D (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Sanctum had the potential to be a disaster to the point when the cast, director and producers alike would have attempted to revise the fact that they had been apart of the film. But Sanctum is not a catastrophe movie and it is surprisingly gripping.

Victoria and Carl begin to panic as they realise that they are trapped and the cave is flooding.

The film is ‘inspired’ by true events. (What this means is anyone’s guess.) A group of cave divers attempt to see the last unknown, underwater cave in the world in Papa New Guinea. The divers, led by Carl the manager (Ioan Gruffudd – Titanic, King Arthur, Fantasic Four I & II), Frank (Richard Roxburgh – Mission Impossible 2, Moulin Rouge, Van Helsing), Josh (Rhys Wakefield – Home and Away, The Black Balloon), George (Dan Wyllie – Chopper, Animal Kingdom) and Victoria (Alice Parkinson – Where The Wild Things Are, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Pacific) are slowly but surely revealing the depths of the cave. That is until a storm breaks out above them. Before they know it, the cave is flooding. They are trapped. The only way out is down. Down, through previously unexplored areas.

The plot for Sanctum is simple and fairly predictable. We know that not everyone is going to survive, so it is just a question of who is next to fall. Yet, because the acting is terribly wooden and the dialogue is poor; it is hard to empathise or like any of the main characters. Their predicaments, and the way they behave in certain situations, seem quite realistic. Under such circumstances, survival is the only thing that matters. Everything else goes by the wayside and there is no time for sentiment. Nevertheless, the more the main characters try to be serious, the more pitifully amusing they become. (Also, why is it that the ‘good guys’ in the film never need food or water; but the ‘bad guys’ do?)

Carl, left, and Frank, right, stay still for a moment to let the others catch up. Behind them, one gets a glimpse of the awesome underwater scenery that is prevalent throughout the film.

The acting, though, was never going to be Sanctum’s attraction. As a thriller, one hopes to feel one’s heart pounding against the chest. While the film takes a bit of time to get going (even though the film is not particularly long), Sanctum achieves this. That the characters go through tight spaces underwater makes one feel claustrophobic; unsettling one almost to the point of panic. (Especially if one does not like being stuck in a small space.)

The 3D feature of the movie has the further effect of making the audience feel as trapped as Frank, Carl, Josh, George and Victoria. This is in no small part due to the executive producer, James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar I, II & III). Just like in his last film, Avatar, Cameron successfully exploits the 3D effects to make one feel like they are in the predicament of those they are watching. In addition, his 3D images of the caves are stunning; seductive enough to make one believe that the potentially fatal dangers of cave digging/exploring are non-hazardous and worthwhile.

Arguably, the visuals and the 3D effects in Sanctum, to a degree, make up for what is lacking in the acting department. The director, Alister Grierson (Kokoda: 39th Battalion), and Cameron make the most out of a bland storyline; and turn it into an unexpectedly entertaining and nerve-shredding movie.

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