Dear Paul Greengrass,
Maybe you’re sick of hearing this. Maybe you’ve done this before. I never saw the Bourne movies or United 93, but I remember similar conversations surrounding their releases. Having seen Captain Phillips, I simply have to ask you one thing:
When are you gonna buy a tripod?
Look, it’s not as if your cinematography is all bad. You can always see the action, which is good. Some shots, like the ones where the camera moves with the movements of the escape pod Captain Phillips is trapped in, are really effective. When the SEALs came in, it seemed like the camera movement was a bit smoother on average than it was before, to show the added confidence. But damn, your camera never stops moving! If the goal was to make the viewer seasick, OK, it hurts but at least it makes sense for a movie set mostly at sea. But even the scenes on land are constant shakey-cam and it’s not only painful but it’s completely unnecessary! Honestly, for a while I wasn’t sure if I should even review the movie because it was just so damn annoying to watch!
After an hour or so I got acclimated, or the movement smoothed out just enough to make it tolerable, and I have to say, everything else in the movie is pretty damn good. Tom Hanks’ dramatization of Phillips, though perhaps not totally true to the real character, makes for an amazing hero because he’s so dedicated to treating people with respect, even his enemies. The last ten minutes where he’s confronted with mortality? I’d have no qualms with Hanks winning another Oscar for those scenes alone. Amazing finds with the unknowns playing the pirates. Barkhad Abdi also deserves some awards attention for his turn as Muse, a great villain because it’s completely understandable why he thinks that he’s, if not a hero, at least justified in his crimes. Amazing how much empathy you have as a director for characters that could easily be demonized by lesser filmmakers.
The script and characters make this a pretty easy recommendation… to watch on TV. Or a small theater screen, in the back row. I can’t imagine seeing this in IMAX. Sitting in the middle of a regular-sized theater was too much. I haven’t seen cinematography hurt a movie so much since Les Miserables. It’s not as annoying as Les Mis, since the script’s better-developed, there are scenes where the cinematography choices really work, and it doesn’t feel like it’s going on forever, but still, it’s pretty frustrating. Maybe you can get Emmanuel Lubezki to shoot your next project? I tell you, if Captain Phillips had cinematography as great as Gravity‘s and Gravity was shot like Captain Phillips, Captain Phillips would be the year’s best thriller and nobody would be talking about Gravity.
P.S. How did you get a PG-13 rating? That last shooting’s bloodier than anything I’ve seen in a serious live-action PG-13 film before. The MPAA-criticizing conspiracy theorist in me suspects racism and that there’s no way that scene would have gotten anything less than an R had it been some white guys killed so graphically. Nothing against your movie, which is absolutely not racist, but I have to question the MPAA’s logic on this.