NEW YORK--Just before director Paul Greengrass and star
"Many of the crew of the
Several men toward the front of Alice Tully Hall took to their feet as the black-tie crowd roared appreciatively, standing for a full minute as the applause continued. Greengrass then welcomed from backstage the real life Rich Phillips, the title character who suffered a harrowing hostage ordeal in waters off the Somali coast back in 2009. The captain walked briskly onstage in a dark suit, pausing in front of Hanks, who leaned down to kiss his hand.
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The moment underscored the power of contemporary fact-based stories--and the weapon that studios who release them have in their holsters.
Most people won't see the movie in the same theater as the crew from the ship, of course. But reading about that group or even knowing they're out there can increase an audience's appreciation in subtle ways. It's not just the characters who were brave but the real people, one thinks, people who very much continue to live and breathe, and if we support the movie we're in a sense supporting them.
OK, so maybe it's not that conscious. But it can play on our minds. Did it help, say,
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We'll see what effect it has here. The movie centers on Phillips, a low-key Vermont man who after decades of service as a commercial ship captain found himself and his crew of about 20 the victim of a hijacking by young, violent Somali pirates. As portrayed by Hanks, the crisis brought out a sense of courage and heroism in the otherwise workmanlike sailor. And if you didn't already salute a man who put his life on the line to protect his crew, there's a moment of quiet self-sacrifice a little more than halfway through the film that will make sure you do.
(It's worth noting that Greengrass' "United 93" traded on similar themes, with the obvious difference that that film's tragic ending and association provided a hurdle that this movie won't face.)
Still, real-life stories come with their own issues. Since at least a portion of the audience knows how the story ends, the burden lies with the telling, and on this audiences were divided. The movie played reasonably well at its big-stage NYFF opening-night venue--far better than
In his remarks before the screening, the director emphasized the film's origins. "It's a tense story of events that really happened," he said. The "really happened" part will help the film. But audiences may ultimately judge it on the tension.
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