Director and writer Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins-Wolverine) may not be the best choice to turn this classic novel into a movie, but he gets the story told. While the 2009 Wolverine was so awful the X-Men franchise won’t even claim it, Hood does a respectable turn-around in this film. Ender’s Game is a classic ’80s science fiction novel written by American author Orson Scott Card. The movie really thrives thanks to the well-acted cast. The credits include Asa Butterfield as well as Oscar nominees Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis and Oscar winner, Sir Ben Kingsley. Set in the near future, the film begins as a hostile alien race (called the Formics) attacks Earth, and if not for the sacrifice of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham, humanity would be lost. In preparation for the next attack, Col. Hyrum Graff (Ford) and the International Military are training the best young children to follow in the footsteps of Rackham.
A veteran Ford gives a well-rounded performance as the serious and harsh colonel. Here’s when Ender Wiggin (Butterfield) comes into play. Ender is a shy, but highly intelligent, young boy who joins the elite in command school. Graff sees Ender’s potential and wants him to succeed. Butterfield does a brilliant job showing us Ender’s strengths and weaknesses throughout the film. Ender has a hard time fitting in with the other students and is bullied through most of the film. Worth mentioning are other well-acted performances by Steinfeld as Ender’s friend Petra, Breslin as Ender’s sister, Davis as Major Gwen Anderson and Kingsley (whose character I will not spoil for you).
All of them bring energy and spirit to help give balance to the film. One of the many allegories presented in this film is should the International Military wait for the Formics to attack or launch its own strike first. The film’s sets are similar to a video game. The kids call the shots and engage in zero gravity war games. Many fans of the novel will be pleased with this version and excited for more to come. Ender’s Game is set up nicely as a first chapter thanks to its veteran cast as well as new faces.
Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93) brings this heroic story to life with Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks, as Captain Phillips. Hanks is at the top of his game in this film and reaches a new peak in his career. The plot is based on a real-life story of Captain Richard Phillips, whose cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, but Greengrass digs deeper into the story’s roots and gives us a non-stop thriller. This electrifying script is written by screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games and State of Play), who’s known for writing intense movies. The script is also adapted from Phillips’ own memoir.
The movie starts out with Phillips leaving his family on his way to his job as captain of the Alabama. Phillips doesn’t take nonsense from his crew and proceeds to run routine drills for safety measures. The pirates are briefly seen taking orders from the warlords and then start out on their mission. They find the Alabama and follow in skiffs. That’s when the tension kicks in. The Alabama is unarmed and has only hoses to stop the pirates. Once the pirates make it onboard the scene intensifies with the Somali leader, Muse, who shoves a gun in Hanks’ face. Muse is played by Barkhad Abdi, who’s never acted before and he crushes his scenes. Muse calls the captain “Irish” and wants millions but the ship only has $30,000 onboard.
The movie sets into a gripping cat-and-mouse game between the crew and pirates, and does not stop there. Greengrass gives Muse and the captain time, onboard the lifeboat, to share beliefs and fears with each other. Their formula grows here and Greengrass executes this brilliantly. Hanks, who has been superb throughout his career, gives us an emotional post-traumatic stress scene at the end, which amplifies the movie. I’m sensing another Oscar nomination for Hanks this January. Captain Phillips is a grand thriller and raises the bar for movies in 2013.