This post contains spoilers.
In this week’s match-up we have two outstanding films. In one corner, we have a based on a true story, drama-thriller starring Tom Hanks as the captain who was taken hostage by pirates in the Indian Ocean. In the other corner, we have a sci-fi thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal who plays a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man on a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. Let’s get it on!
I loved Captain Phillips. I knew I was going to like it but I didn’t know I was going to love it. Tom Hanks was on a pretty bad stretch for a while, with movies I didn’t particularly care for such as Angels & Demons (2009), Larry Crowne (2011), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) and Cloud Atlas (2012). But what Captain Phillips had besides an incredible story was Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93). And with Greengrass, Hanks gives his best performance in a very long time.
What I loved about the film so much was how incredible its balance was. Not only did we get a look inside the ship and Captain Phillips’ ordering drills to prepare themselves for an attack, we get to see the pirates’ side of the story and how they saw the opportunity to hijack an American freighter as a gold mine. Even when they find out they were wrong, they knew they were too deep in the job to back out. It became a mission they would take to the grave. I never thought it would be possible to feel sympathy for the pirates, but an excellent performance by Barkhad Abdi made it happen.
While Captain Phillips was truly a thrilling film, Source Code was just as suspenseful but in a more entertaining fashion. Don’t let that fool you though, because as entertaining as Source Code is, it’s also an intelligent film that offers a look on the casualties of war, technology, and how thin the moral line can be. Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) goes through a Groundhog Day-like event where he keeps reliving the same eight minutes over and over again. Within these eight minutes in the Source Code experimental project, he’s supposed to track down the person who bombed the train in order to stop an even larger bombing planned in a few hours.
What separates Source Code from other blockbusters is its layers. We learn about the urgency of this mission alongside Captain Stevens, but during his first few attempts we’re able to establish a real relationship between Stevens and Christina Warren (Monoghan), a woman he’s traveling with. On top of the mission and the relationship, there is also the question of who’s in charge of this mission, how it’s being operated, and what happened to Captain Stevens’ last memory when he was in Afghanistan. This film is packed with suspense and turns, and it does a magnificent job with its satisfying conclusion (even though it doesn’t entirely make sense).
So which movie is the winner? This is a tough choice for me to make because I love both films. The acting edge definitely goes to Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, but in the director race I’ll have to say it’s pretty darn even. Sure, Greengrass got more acclaim, but the techniques that Duncan Jones used to balance multiple story-lines in a way that wasn’t confusing for the audience are just great. While Captain Phillips is based on this remarkable true story, I always have a soft spot for time bending, sci-fi plots.
With a match-up this close, I can only make a decision by analyzing how each film made me feel at its conclusion. For Source Code, we really get invested between Captain Stevens and Christina Warren, so to have this alternate universe created where Stevens prevents the bomb from going off is very satisfying. And I loved the whole “What would you do if you knew you had less than one minute to live?” question throughout. In the end, not only does Stevens get the girl but he also saves the world. As pleasing as this conclusion is, Captain Phillips simply punches you right in the gut and then sends tears pouring out of your eyes. It all builds up to the point when the Navy SEALs take out the pirates and then Tom Hanks works his magic and gives a devastating reaction while being looked at by a doctor. It’s impossible not to feel for Captain Phillips and all the trauma he just went through. The film does a great job with such a powerful ending.
So that’s my pick. Captain Phillips by a tight margin. This is one case where I’d likely pick Source Code to watch more often, but the sheer weight of Captain Phillips gives it the edge.
Winner: Captain Phillips