Paul Greengrass has a talent for making good films that make me sick.
The director is well-known for his use of the hand-held camera technique which lets the action on-screen appear with all the herky-jerky motion of real life. This method is also known as “shaky cam” or “queasy cam” — and with good reason.
I am well-known for having low tolerance for shaky cam. I hate it. Nothing ruins a movie like the feeling you may hurl at any moment. And then you get hot and sweaty for no reason.
The first Greengrass film that made me ill, and I believe it made me the sickest, was “Bloody Sunday,” a movie about the violence in Northern Ireland. Boy, was that unpleasant. Then he made the Bourne movies, which combined shaky cam with fast cuts and other edits that made many of the action scenes real stomach-turners. I don’t remember if “United 93” made me sick but I don’t want to watch it again to find out. (This experience doesn’t affect me when watching movies on television. One of the benefits of not be able to afford a giant home theater, I guess.)
Which brings us, at long last, to “Captain Phillips.” Based on the true story of merchant marine Captain Richard Phillips, it’s a Paul Greengrass action-thriller where everything takes place on the open sea.
I should have known better. I really have no one to blame but myself. Does Dramamine work at the movies?
OK, time to make this not about me for a few paragraphs. The year is 2009 and Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) is in charge of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama as it navigates the dangerous waters near Somalia in 2009.
The ship is set upon by a ragtag group of Somali pirates who manage to board the ship on their second attempt. Things go awry for the quartet of pirates and they wind up having to leave in a small lifeboat, but not before taking Phillips hostage. Now the pirates are in a race to reach land before the U.S. Navy cuts them off.
“Captain Phillips” is a tense, gripping thriller with another superb performance by Tom Hanks. Equally impressive is Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the pirates. All the actors do fine work.
Greengrass does a convincing job of making you feel like you are right there, from the tense moments as the pirates board the ship to the claustrophobia of being trapped in the lifeboat. It’s very convincing. Too convincing, I might add, which brings us back around to my original point.
“Captain Phillips” is a great movie — if you’ve got the stomach for it. If you’re the type of person who is easily afflicted by motion sickness when watching movies with heavy use of shaky cam, be prepared. What made matters worse with this movie is that usually when confronted with this feeling I close my eyes and listen to the movie, but when you’re dealing with a film that uses a lot of subtitles that’s a problem.
Still, that’s my problem. Hopefully it’s not yours.