CAPSULE REVIEWS: Rush, Gravity, Captain Phillips


Awards season is chugging ever closer (doesn’t it feel like it just wrapped up?), and that means we’re well into the “prestige” films that we look forward to every fall. For those of you who didn’t get to catch these movies at some of the recent film festivals, some of the most critically-acclaimed pictures of 2013 are starting their theatrical runs, and you may be hard pressed to stay on top of them all.

Below, you’ll find reviews of three of the major fall films that have opened in theatres over the past few weeks: Ron Howard’s 1970s F1 racing film Rush, Alfonso Cuarón’s space film Gravity, and Paul Greengrass’ modern-day piracy thriller Captain Phillips. As always, jump in and join the discussion about any or all of the films in the comments section!

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl star in 'Rush'

Rush  -  Two and a Half Stars

Ron Howard is no stranger to the “based on a true story” structure, and here he tackles a famous 1970s rivalry between two Formula One drivers, Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). The film culminates in a dangerous race in Tokyo during the 1976 season, and examines the value and danger of risk – both on the track and in private life.

The two rivals are diametrically opposed racers – Hunt is a fast-living playboy who takes endless risks on the track, while Lauda is a cool, calculating driver who has no interest in friends or partying. Inevitably, their natural competition on the track is heightened by the racers’ opposite philosophies, resulting in a bitter feud. Even so, we come to realize that Hunt and Lauda need each other. They are the yin and yang of Formula One, and while they refuse to become friends, Hunt and Lauda unconsciously make each other into better drivers.

Howard is in top form, delivering a fast-paced entertainment fueled by explosive images of the innards of high-performance vehicles. Hemsworth and Brühl deliver strong performances as the lead racers, though it would have been nice to see a scene between the drivers' wives (Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara) -  perhaps where they discuss what it's like to fly to exotic locales and watch their husbands cheat death. And despite writer Peter Morgan's somewhat lazy way of narrating the film through sports broadcasts,  Rush remains an exciting glimpse into a world only occasionally explored on film. Two and a half stars out of four. (Watch the trailer)

Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone in 'Gravity'

Gravity  -  Four Stars

Gravity is one of those rare films that come along every few decades - a triumphant, cinematic experience that grabs you with its visuals and trusts you to figure out the rest. Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey are well-deserved: here is remarkably accurate film about space exploration (yes, even after Neil deGrasse Tyson's corrections) that also dares to explore human evolution and our future in interplanetary space.

On top of that, Gravity also manages to be a searing character study of a medical doctor (Sandra Bullock), who finds herself grappling with a recent tragedy while she braves one of the most inhospitable environments known to science.  And to make it all worse, she then falls victim to a catastrophic accident during her mission, forcing her to decide whether it's worth trying to stay alive when there's nothing for her to return to on Earth.

Alfonso Cuarón spent four years making Gravity, and it shows: the film is a masterpiece of modern cinema, and yet it clocks in at a trim 90 minutes. The director evidently spent considerable time chopping the film down to only what was most important about this woman's journey to stay alive, against truly astronomical odds (it seems like the entire solar system is out to shred, burn, freeze or asphyxiate her). Cuarón also injects the film with a surprising amount of humour - moments that definitely demand a second viewing, if the gripping visuals aren't enough. Four stars out of four. (Watch the trailer)

Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips in 'Captain Phillips'

Captain Phillips  -  Three and a Half Stars

By this point, many viewers have become accustomed to Tom Hanks' range of performances, whether he's playing a trusted leader in Saving Private Ryan or a man descending into madness in Cast Away. Paul Greengrass' new film Captain Phillips, however, stands to cement another standout Hanks performance in the minds of moviegoers.

Here, Hanks anchors a film about a real-life pirate incursion off the coast of Somalia in 2009, aboard a cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama. Hanks plays Richard Phillips, a cargo ship captain who was in charge of the Alabama when a group of four armed Somali men boarded and commandeered the ship, seeking to ransom its crew for millions of dollars. At the time, shipping companies did not invest in security for their routes through that part of the world, and so Phillips is left to use only his wits to try to stay alive.

Greengrass wisely splits the film between the two leads: Rich Phillips and the lead pirate, Muse. He counterpoints their different lives, and uses the sea as a cauldron for their clash of cultures. Through the film's tight editing and Greengrass' talent for directing action (particularly through his use of handheld cameras), Captain Phillips channels all the technical brilliance of Greengrass' Bourne films to carry Hanks' work. One of the actor's best scenes comes right at the end, when Phillips is suffering from shock - it's one of the most true-to-life scenes I've witnessed in a long time.   Three and a half stars out of four. (Watch the trailer


What did you think of these three films? Will Rush net Ron Howard another Best Director Oscar? What did you think of the cinematography in Gravity? Did that final scene with Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips blow you away? Sound off in the comments section below, and if you liked these capsule reviews, share them with your friends and followers!

Past Reviews:

Capsule Reviews: In a World..., Drinking Buddies, Don Jon

TIFF 2013: Third Person | TIFF 2013: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon