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‘Captain Phillips’ (Paul Greengrass, 2013)

Paul Greengrass is the master of these intense, docu-dramaesque pieces. His two Bourne sequels succeeded not just because of Tony Gilroy’s screenplays or Matt Damon’s charisma, but because Greengrass, beyond those cynical accusations that handheld is an easy mans game, brought a grubby legitimacy to a Hollywood thriller so keen, as they all are, to unteather itself from any sort of reality. Whether it’s Damon leaping between buildings or a real-time 9/11 re-enactment in United 93, Greengrass is there, dropping the audience right into the action. His work doesn’t quite have the breadth of vision Mark Boal’s scripts bring to Kathryn Bigelow’s similarly taut combat dramas (but then Zero Dark Thirty operates on levels few films in a lifetime dare to reach), however as a master of re-enactment, as a pop purveyor of tension in nail biting contemporary thrillers, there’s no one else out there quite like him.

Working with a bona fide auteur like Greengrass might be the smartest move Tom Hanks has made in some time. With the exception of Cloud Atlas (which I kinda loved – in spite of itself), Hanks has been slumming it for years, bubbling along nicely on the Robert Langdon paycheques and neglecting his quite unique rapport with audiences. It’s a sublimely effective, perfectly cast role, that catapults him back to relevance and the inevitable awards season circus. Greengrass, for all his concern with the propulsive, immediacy of unfolding events, allows his leading man loose on the full playground of his range in a way I don’t think I’ve seen since the Robert Zemeckis collaborations.

Hanks, for all his poster-topping status, has always been a terrific team player and works well with the unknown Somali co-stars, finding common ground together in the (accurate) view that Somalia is generally pretty rubbish unless you’re Mo Farah or a khat-chewing gang boss. The young Barkhad Abdi as the head pirate is especially strong, expressing the strange sort of buried humanity a lesser performer (or director, for that matter) could quite easily ignore.

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