BY: JACKSON ROSS, COLUMNIST
Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are probably the two best actors working right now when it comes to paying average joes. Despite its flaws, 2011’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close did one thing right by casting the two of them as an average American couple. Now they both have to similar movies coming out that deserve some comparison.
Hanks’ contribution is the true story tale Captain Phillips, about the 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Bullock’s is a fictional story of two astronauts who become stranded in space.
Probably the biggest similarity between these two is the lack of company these two protagonists have. Phillips spends most of his movie only able to converse with his attackers, his crew hiding out in another part of the ship. Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone, at least has George Clooney for company, but they are separated for more than half of the movie, making her virtually the only character, forcing her to use her natural charm to keep the audience’s attention on her character and not just the ridiculously amazing visuals. She faces problem after problem, getting to mutter things like “I hate space!” as structures get destroyed around her.
The director of Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron, is certainly not prolific, but when he does work, he’s one of the best in the business. Having helmed the brilliant Children of Men, along with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, arguably the best in that franchise, he shows himself to be a visual master, probably putting the most fear of space into a movie since Alien in 1979. The opening scene is all in one shot, the camera rotating around the characters for almost twenty minutes without cutting.
Robert Greengrass, director of Captain Phillips, has a directing style of his own. Having directed the second and third Jason Bourne movies, he’s become a master of the shaky cam, using it to amplify the tension throughout this movie. His directing style wouldn’t work at all in Gravity, which requires patient, circumnavigating shots that show off the vastness of space.
Both Bullock and Hanks are both getting serious Oscar buzz, but what chance do they have? Bullock already has an Oscar, one she just received a few years ago, and Hanks already has two. Hanks is also facing serious competition from Robert Redford, who’s seventy seven and without one for acting. By sheer coincidence, the film Redford is gaining attention for is All is Lost, which plays almost like a combination of Captain Phillips and Gravity, about a nameless man who braves storms out in the ocean on his small boat. If I had been able to see that, it would’ve been included in here too.
Gravity makes the good choice of only going for an hour and a half, not like other special effects extravaganzas, but even it gets boring for a bit, particularly when Clooney isn’t on screen, and you begin to get tired of seeing bad thing after bad thing happen to Bullock, and frankly, the most breathtaking scenes were shown in the trailer already. Captain Phillips has a bit of the same problem, as a standoff between the pirates and the navy goes on for much too long, and you begin to lose track of what stage the plot is at.
It’s really impossible to choose which to recommend. Captain Phillips is a better film overall, but Gravity is something that should be seen on the big screen, whereas Captain Phillips should be fine on a TV or computer. Either of them will leave you wondering if the everyman persona is really a thing of the past.