Film Face-off: 'Captain Phillips' vs. 'Cast Away'

Film Face-off: 'Captain Phillips' vs. 'Cast Away'

Oct 14, 2013

You can't keep Tom Hanks away from the water, and frankly, why would you want to try? In the new film by Paul Greengrass, Hanks plays the title character Captain Phillips. Based on a true story, his cargo ship is attacked by Somali Pirates during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009. In 2000, Hanks starred as Chuck Noland in the Robert Zemeckis-directed Cast Away. Chuck is a FedEx employee stranded on an uninhabited island.

Both films have two words in their titles, and both involve water. That's all I need to make this Film Face-off work. But wait, there's more. We're throwing in a twist to this Film Face-off, Hanks is off the table. That's right, Tom Hanks will not be a category. Running time will not be a category either, but keep in mind Cast Away is only nine minutes longer at 143 minutes.

There will not be any big Captain Phillips spoilers. There will be Cast Away spoilers.

 

The Title

Captain Phillips

Calling a movie, any movie, Captain Phillips is a little boring. I'm going on record and saying that the real-life man is not a household name (though this movie may change that). Here's the thing, it's not really the film's fault. What else could you call this movie? Captain Phillips and the Pirates mentally takes you somewhere else.

Cast Away

I appreciate that Cast Away isn't called Castaway. It's a nod to the heart of the film. Sure, he's cast ashore as a survivor of a wreck, but how does that affect him? He becomes cast away from society because of the things he must endure in the middle of nowhere, with no companions except for a volleyball he names Wilson.

Winner: Cast Away. I've spent far too long trying to come up with a better title for Captain Phillips. A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty is the name of the book the film is based on. Clearly it couldn't be shortened to A Captain's Duty because I can't be the only one who chuckles when he hears the word "duty." I think Life Boat works, especially if you carry it out to the concept that the Somalian's life depends on Phillip's life, and you know, there's a boat. Unfortunately, that puts a significant focus on the lifeboat, which doesn't come into play until about an hour into the film. Then again, making it two words would be a nod to Cast Away, and I'm a big fan of nods.

 

The Leading Lady

 

Captain Phillips

Catherine Keener plays Andrea Phillips. She has a small role in the film. Andrea drives her husband to work. It seems to be a ritual the two of them share. She worries, and he calms her. There is a slight disconnection with the conversation, and it's over before you know it.

Cast Away

Helen Hunt plays Kelly Frears. Kelly and Chuck are in a long-term relationship, which is the ugly sounding way of saying they aren't married. Chuck is lost at sea, and returns four years later. He finds that Kelly has married and has a daughter.

Winner: Captain Phillips. While some of us might like Hunt, and feel that she's done good work with As Good As It Gets and her turn at directing Then She Found Me, everyone in the world agrees Kelly did not wait long enough for Chuck. Her daughter seems older than one. I think I'm nice by saying she's one and a half. Now we only have 2.5 years in between Chuck disappearing and Kelly delivering that baby. Take away 10 months for pregnancy, and let's say they only had to try for a few months. We now have one year from the time Chuck disappeared, to the time Kelly found a new man. Even if she gave up hope after three months of Chuck's crash, that's nine months to pull herself together and be emotionally ready to try and love again. After all of that she attempts to have her cake and eat it too, by making out with Chuck in the car. I'm not a fan. Keener wins by default, but she adds a really nice touch to the film. The way Phillips wants to hide the bad things from her is endearing.

 

The Water

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips is a merchant mariner. Does that mean something to you? Before this film, I didn't mean much to me. I had no clue the detail that went into this job. The cargo ship is enormous, and when they switch to the orange lifeboat it creates a different vibe.

Cast Away

The plane crash into the ocean is magnificent drama. Chuck attempts one escape through the island's surf, but it proves pointless. He learns to fish, while sporting a magnificently mangled beard. Eventually he makes a raft that breaks through the surf, and he's found by a cargo ship.

Winner: Cast Away. The elements don't come in to play the way I thought they would with Captain Phillips. While the size of the cargo ship is impressive, there is very little drama that comes from the use of it (like the water hoses). Plus, is it just me or is that orange lifeboat kind of comical looking? I feel it belongs in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I never felt seasick (which I get) or claustrophobic (which I get) with that lifeboat, which seems like missed opportunities of peril and nervousness. The plane crash in Cast Away is so good that every time there is a great plane crash in a film (like The Grey) I immediately compare it to Cast Away. Plus, it's on the water when Chuck says good-bye to Wilson... it's getting dusty in here.

 

The Evil

Captain Phillips

Somali Pirates are not my favorite. I know this now more than ever. Barkhad Abdi plays Muse. He's the ring leader of one of the pirate gangs. His small stature only makes him more menacing.

Cast Away

The elements and how Chuck mentally deals with them is the evil within Cast Away. At one point things get so bleak that he considers suicide, which is totally understandable.

Winner: Captain Phillips. With both films, you realize Hanks will be around the majority of the film. After all, in one he's the title character, in the other he's the only human around for miles. With Cast Away I was desperately curious with how he would deal with the situation. With Captain Phillips you realize there is nothing more terrifying than a villain who is desperate and willing to do anything. Abdi's first acting job is fantastic. Muse's offbeat look and his skinny frame make him a joke to his fellow Somalians. This just makes him more dangerous. It's an odd thing to almost respect, and definitely feel sorry for this kind of evil.

 

The Ending

Captain Phillips

I assumed I knew the ending. This didn't stop me from being insanely nervous. The Navy SEALs continue to make me believe there is nothing they can't do (except bother with double negatives). Hanks saves his best acting for the very end of the film.

Cast Away

First Chuck and Kelly make out in the car. Then she breaks his heart again. Chuck does get to keep the car though, and he takes that unopened package and heads off. The film ends with him literally at a crossroads, potentially finding a new lady.

Winner: Captain Phillips. I was a complete emotional wreck watching Hanks at the end of Captain Phillips. I love when a film saves the best for last and Captain definitely does. I've read the scene was improvised, which makes it all the more impressive. I had to talk myself into the very ending of Cast Away. If you imagine it continuing from the crossroads, clearly he goes after the woman. He explains his journey, and she falls in love with him because it would be impossible not to. She's about to open the package, and then it ends. That's right, even in my imagination I never get to know what's in the box.

 

OVERALL WINNER: Captain Phillips beats Cast Away, 3-2.

Argh. I almost reworked the categories. After all, I love Cast Away, and so far I just really, really like Captain Phillips. I knew I should have added the categories of "Sports Equipment with Blood on It," and "Fire Victory Dance." I still get a little annoyed that Hanks didn't win an Oscar for Cast Away, and now he's lost this Film Face-off to another one of his films. Poor guy. While I did choose each category, and write every word, I've decided it's best not to blame myself. Let's all point the finger at Helen Hunt. It feels like the right thing to do.

 

 

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