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Captain Phillips is director Paul Greengrass's multi-layered examination of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. It is - through Greengrass's distinctive lens - simultaneously a pulse-pounding thriller and a complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalization. The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama's commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (two time Academy Awardr winner Tom Hanks), and his Somali counterpart, Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Set on an incontrovertible collision course off the coast of Somalia, both men will find themselves paying the human toll for economic forces outside of their control. The film is directed by Academy Awardr nominee Paul Greengrass, from a screenplay by Billy Ray based upon the book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. The film is produced by Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, and Michael De Luca. For one of his biggest scores to date, composer Henry Jackman takes his music to the high seas for this epic adventure.
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Composed by Henry Jackman (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, X-Men: First Class), the score without a doubt sounds like John Powell's style, Greengrass' frequent collaborator. The opening track has a Middle-Eastern sound that Powell normally used in the Bourne soundtracks, combined with stings that help build the atmosphere of the film's opening. The second track, "Maersk Alabama," is very haunting and almost certainly foreshadows the terror ahead, both physical and emotional in nature; a certain "uncertainty" dwelling on the horizon. I won't go any further into track analyses, but i'll say my favorite track is the final one, "Safe Now." Unbearably emotional and beautifully composed, it's the one track that makes the entire score worth it. It's like when you watch a movie, and as good as it may be (or just the opposite), it keeps you waiting for that final, brilliant moment. And when that moment comes, it makes that wait even more worth it, even more memorable.
Captain Phillips is a good soundtrack that isn't an award-winner, but definitely one to add to the collection if you're a collector. If not, then give it a listen and decide for yourself if it's one you'd revisit, due to its similarities to past scores done with the same filmmaker (United 93 being the most influential, as even a part of the track 'The End' from the film is used in Captain Phillips).
If you know Greengrass then you know he pushed Powell to do lots of percussion. That doesn't change here as the score is full of lots of percussion. The musical stylings are of course accented with ethnic sounds and instruments to accompany the Somali pirates. The score does an excellent job of pushing and pulling. It can push the tempo and then pull it back down at the drop of a dime. It's a lean and simple score with a very basic structure. If there were any shortcomings it's that the score is purely meant to provide tension and nothing really else. There aren't any deep emotional touches till the final track. And unfortunately that last track is a blatant mockup of "Time" from Inception. To be fairly honest, a lot of the tracks here feel very reminscient of Zimmer's structures and style. I've grown to love Henry's voice and while you do hear his pure unfiltered style now and then, it's mostly muddled in dipping into what's done before. Captain Phillips' score can very easily be described as Black Hawk Down meets United 93, which says how very basic its sonic identity is. A lot of the percussion here has that Modern Warfare 2 sound that Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer used for that score. Now, don't get me wrong here. Captain Phillips is a very adequate score. I enjoyed the entire experience and it's intended effect is successful.
This Henry Jackman score feels a bit void of what we're used to from him. Maybe Greengrass wanted him to stick to Powell's or Zimmer's stylings, but then again who knows? Even though the score has a familiar genre feel it still gets the job done. The track structures and textures all lend themselves to some great dramatic builds. There just seems to be some heart missing from this one. You will find the way it plays out as a very "to the point" journey, but it never strays away from the expected.
Having said that, I think "Captain Phillips" is Jackman's weakest album in a while. That's not to say it's bad, given that Jackman has set the bar so high; but the music here sounds a lot like your everyday action movie score (actually, it would fit well with the Bourne movies that director Paul Greengrass made). Rather than having the effect of increasing the suspense, the music often reminded me that I was watching a Hollywood-ized account of this harrowing real-life drama. As an isolated listening experience, once was enough - this is the kind of score with very few themes or memorable moments, so the re-play value is very low.
The final track, titled "Safe Now", helps the album reach a more triumphant and emotional state - although I must say parts of it sound a lot like Hans Zimmer's "Time" from Inception.
**NOTE: If you did see the film and enjoyed some of the music near the end, unfortunately some of it is not present on this album because it was originally composed for "United 93".
 Maersk Alabama
 Safe Now
One of the best things that ever happened to Paul Greengrass was his inheritance of composer John Powell when he began helming the Bourne franchise. Since then, Powell has provided the scores for all of Greengrass's films, including The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Green Zone. It's a partnership that has become expected, relied upon for consistent results; the director makes dependably good films and his composer has truly nailed a "sound" appropriate to his style. Because they're so in tune with each other, the duo delivers time and time again. Thus, when John Powell announced his semi-retirement to focus more on his family, by no means a reprehensible choice in light of the busy life of a composer, the film score community was left clamoring to find out who would fill his shoes.
Enter Henry Jackman, composer of such films as X-Men: First Class, Wreck-It-Ralph, Turbo, and the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Having worked with Powell on the Kung-Fu Panda short Secrets of the Furious Five, Jackman is a rising star in film scoring who has much in common with Powell stylistically. In many ways, Jackman was not an unexpected choice for the job.
Scoring a Greengrass film is perhaps unlike scoring any other film (with the possible exception of a Kathryn Bigelow film). So much attention is devoted to realism that, as Henry Jackman attests, big thematic scoring is most often rendered inappropriate. With Captain Phillips, Jackman searches for colors, rhythms, and textures to tighten the film's grip on the audience's nerves, ensuring a taut, primarily rhythmic accompaniment to the film. As such, Captain Phillips is an effective contribution that inevitably lacks a little as a standalone listen.
If it must be put in context of Powell's scores for Greengrass's films, Henry Jackman's Captain Phillips may come across as a lesser Green Zone, if only for it's reliance on ethnic, percussive force. Cues like "Choose Your Crew", the latter half of "This is Not A Drill", "Second Attack", and "Negotiation" most heavily feature these elements, the percussion rattling, clapping, and slamming through the cues' rhythmic motions. Coarse, ethnic strings growl and wail over these rhythms, giving them a harsh intensity that's only amplified by some Powell-like ostinatos. Interestingly, Jackman also employs vocal percussion in a few choice instances (as in "This Is Not A Drill") to lend the music an organic feel.
Other examples of the score's tense, action material incorporate the ethnic elements in a subtler fashion, focusing more heavily on aggressive ostinatos and relentless beats. "Two In The Water", "Seals Inbound", and "High-Speed Maneuvers" employ this mix to great effect. The remainder of the cues, with the exception of "Safe Now" (don't you worry, I'll get to that one) are exercises in creating subtle tension with minimal elements and orchestration. In these cases, it's clear that Jackman is trying to avoid traipsing over the film's realism with heavy-handed suspense cues; as such, this kind of material, as anxiety inducing as it is, is rather anonymous. "I'm The Captain Now", "Do We Have A Deal?", "Entering the Lifeboat" (which features the grating, ethnic equivalent of the horn-of-doom at 1:58), "USS Bainbridge", "End This Peacefully", "Failed Attempt", and "Initiate the Tow" all proceed in this style.
What is confounding about Henry Jackman's Captain Phillips is its unabashed rehashing of Hans Zimmer's Inception. Just listen to "Maersk Alabama" and try not to think of its near identical equivalent in Zimmer's "One Simple Idea". Furthermore, the score's sole foray into warm, thematic writing, 'Safe Now", is one of the most blatant "Time" knock-offs I've ever heard. The soft yet wholesome piano, the descending strings, the distant synth beat, the guitar riffing in the background, the sudden cut-off at its conclusion, it's all here! Despite Jackman's best intentions in creating a subtle score that adds tension and seamlessly disappears into the film, these similarities become tremendously distracting and take you right out of the film, leaving you musing as to whether the entire hijacking was just a dream or not.
As a whole, however, Captain Phillips is still a good score that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. Without unnecessary embellishment, Henry Jackman has created a taut, streamlined suspense piece that balances ethnic and contemporary styles well. There's little doubt that director Paul Greengrass didn't want to stray far from the style of usual go-to John Powell (his United 93 track "The End" even being used in the film), so Jackman's footprints are largely absent from Captain Phillips. Though it may be a testament to his adaptability and talent, this fact may also be a bit of a disappointment for avid fans of his work.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "Choose Your Crew", "Maersk Alabama", "Safe Now"