Sunday, 19 January 2014

Best Supporting Actor 2013: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips

Barkhad Abdi received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Abduwali Muse in Captain Phillips.

Captain Phillips is an effective thriller about the hijacking of a cargo ship by Somali pirates. I would say though it drags a bit once it gets to the lifeboat.

Most of the notable first time film actors nominated in this category tend to be in extremely sympathetic roles like Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields or Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives, but that is not exactly the case with Barkhad Abdi in this film. Barkhad Abdi plays the head of the group of four pirates who decide to try to make money by attacking the ship run by Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks). The film is about the two captains Phillips of the cargo ship, and Muse who runs his own boat. Abdi is almost co-lead with Hanks in this film as it does bother to show him before the hijacking and even gives him perspective beforehand as he chooses his men then chooses to proceed with his plan.

Muse is definitely a villain in the film as he does shoot at, and threaten to kill people to make his money, but the film does show where he is coming from. It allows you to sympathize with him if you choose to, which is one of the strengths of the film. Abdi does not necessarily play him in an overly sympathetic way actually, even if Muse's desperation is an essential part of the film. Abdi plays the part correctly from the begging as he is a pirate who plans on making money no matter what even if it means hurting people. In his early scenes Abdi plays Muse as a bit of the silent gangster and is effective in conveying his underlying determination to get on Phillips's ship even with resistance from both Phillips's and his crew as well as many hesitations from fellow Pirates.

When Muse and his men finally infiltrate the ship and confront the Captain Abdi is brilliant in his magnetic portrayal of Muse in the scene. Abdi plays it as a bit of an act, although an act in the character of Muse. Abdi makes the right distinction in his performance as Muse basically tries to act as the very calm and cool leader of the men, who will not be taken as a fool by Phillips. Abdi is great because there is the performance in him of wanting to be considered the man in charge with his delivery of "I'm the Captain Now" which is flawlessly handled by Abdi. Abdi makes Muse the Pirate who definitely should be taken seriously, but at the same time he suggests that this is in an underlying way that this is not exactly who Muse truly is, rather it is his way of trying to control the situation.

After Muse's attempt in controlling the ship goes far worse than he would have hoped, and instead decides to kidnap only Phillips aboard the cargo ship's lifeboat, and attempt to get some ransom somehow. Abdi is terrific in portraying how his failure to take the ship has hit Muse very hard. Abdi rightfully drops Muse attempting to be in control and effectively begins to show the desperation in the man instead. At this point Abdi suggests he really does not have have any point for the act, and instead just tries to lead his men while it slowly becomes obvious that his plan is going to fail. Abdi matches Tom Hanks in terms of his realistic reactions as the tension increases. Abdi is exceptional in portraying Muse slowly failing attempt to control his men as well as Phillips.

As his plan only seems to become worse as they are surrounded by the U.S. navy Abdi is rather moving in his portrayal of Muse attempt to rationalize still going further with the plan. Abdi is great because he shows the effort as Muse tries to keep on a brave face in face of an obvious defeat and there is such sadness, although a properly restrained form of it, in Abdi's delivery of the line ""I go too far, Irish". Abdi shows that Muse really does know he's been defeated but this pride and desperation will not allow him to admit, so he keeps attempting to keep a brave face. There is even such a tragedy as Abdi still gives off the faint confidence as Muse claims that he will probably get millions from his plan which will allow him to be rich in America. 

Abdi's very best scene though comes in a trade off in philosophy between the two Captains as Phillips tries to ask Muse if this course of action was all that Muse could have really done with his life. Abdi fully realizes the desperation in Muse in this scene as there is such a resignation in his words as he basically tells Phillips that he believes there was no other option for him to take. Abdi vividly portrays the state of the man and alludes to his history of Somalia where he likely found very few other ideas other than piracy, and further controlled by his elders who he refers to as his bosses. Abdi's performance of this scene shows the depth of this man as more than just simply a man trying to make money, but rather a series of circumstances that have brought him to this place. 

Barkhad Abdi despite this being his screen debut gives a very assured performance. Abdi creates an fascinating character out Muse, by never overplaying an aspect of it. The part could have easily been played as just a constantly angry pirate, or he actually also could have been played as overly somber to gain sympathy. Abdi's performance rises above any of that because he creates a fuller portrait of Muse. He makes Muse the villain he should be with the right intensity suggesting the danger his character does present for Phillips, but he as well manages to show what makes this man the danger he is, which is definitely not simplistic evil. Barkhad Abid gives a great performance as Abduwali Muse, and succeeds, along with the writing, in bringing a greater complexity to this story.

31 comments:

luke higham said...

This is turning out to be the best supporting year since 2008 and should likely be in your overall top 5 or 10.

Matt Mustin said...

He was great, and played off Tom Hanks beautifully.

Speaking of Hanks, can you review him for your Alternate Lead lineup?

Louis Morgan said...

I'd say Hanks is a definite for the alternate line up.

luke higham said...

Louis: Who're you planning to review for alternative lead actor 2013.

Louis Morgan said...

I think you can probably guess four of them, but the fifth is rather open.

luke higham said...

Hanks
Redford
Isaac
Phoenix
B.Jordan

mrripley said...

For the 5th would u consider doing michael shannon in the iceman or hugh jackman in prisoners.

Matt Mustin said...

Jake Gyllenhaal in Prisoners

luke higham said...

Louis: Is Gyllenhaal Lead or Supporting

Matt Mustin said...

Luke: There's not even a question, he has MUCH more screentime than Jackman and the story focuses on his investigation. He is very much lead.

luke higham said...

Louis: Then Gyllenhaal instead of B.Jordan

Michael Patison said...

That's what I was going to guess:
Tom Hanks
Robert Redford
Oscar Isaac
Joaquin Phoenix
somebody else

I think the somebody else will be somebody like:
Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station
Daniel Brühl in Rush
Chris Hemsworth in Rush
Jake Gyllenhaal in Prisoners
Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem
Tye Sheridan in Mud
Ryan Gosling in The Place Beyond the Pines
Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond the Pines

You could also pull a complete surprise and do somebody else completely:
Steve Coogan in Philomena
Idris Elba in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty
Dane DeHaan in Kill Your Darlings
Daniel Radcliffe in Kill Your Darlings
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate
Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive
Mads Mikkelsen in Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas
Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy

It seems like half of the surprise possibilities aren't in particularly acclaimed (sometimes panned) films.

I would post more but this is already long enough. I know I haven't included several "worthy" performances.

Also, have you seen the South Korean film New World with Choi Min-sik? I haven't, but it seems like he's a supporting role. He might be an alternate supporting possibility.

Michael Patison said...

I don't know about Gyllenhaal's and Jackman's screentime. I think Jackman actually has slightly more, but they are 100% co-leads. It doesn't even matter, though, because Gyllenhaal is great, whereas Jackman is, at best, a disappointment. He is supposed to exhibit the gradual descent of man over the course of the film, but he doesn't, making a good number of his scenes seem overacted.

Michael McCarthy said...

Going back to Abdi for a moment, Louis, will you keep him in supporting in the overall rankings? Because I think that's where he belongs.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael: He will definitely be in supporting.

luke higham said...

Louis: Is Leto Lead or Supporting.

Psifonian said...

So glad that you rate Abdi so high. He might very well be my win because his performance is aging beautifully.

"Maybe in America, Irish. Maybe in America."

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: He's supporting.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Psifonian: Agreed entirely. That's my favorite line, too.

joe burns said...

I think he will win here. If there's a huge upset on Oscar night, I think he could pull it off, but I am not betting that he will.

Great review as usual!

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what are your thoughts on Killing Them Softly?

luke higham said...

Louis: what is the worst performance, you've seen this year.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

^ I've made no secret in my utter hatred for Emory Cohen's "surly Brando impression, yo" (my friend came up with that one) in The Place Beyond the Pines. In fact, when someone says they liked him my first reaction is to call them a troll.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: I thought it was a film with some great scenes and good performance which unfortunately failed to really add up to much of anything. The using of politicians speeches in particular became tiresome, and ended up feeling extremely heavy handed.

Luke: The first performance that came to mind was Wagner Moura in Elysium.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Will Cohen be in your bottom five?

Louis Morgan said...

Well he won't be very high that's for certain.

Michael Patison said...

When might we be seeing Jared Leto's review?

Michael Patison said...

Luke: I just saw your first comment again and would like to point out that, while you are right, it would have been even stronger if the Academy had nominated Brühl and Gandolfini (or just about anyone else, for that matter) instead of Hill and Cooper.

With Brühl and Gandolfini, it could have been the best ever. The current top year, 1944, has a total score of 22.5. Assuming Leto gets a 4.5 (I think he's a 5, but I'm being cautious in my calculations), then this year has a total of 19.5 (20 if Leto's a 5). Brühl and Gandolfini, I assume, would both get at least 4s from Louis, which would have tied this year with 1944. A 4.5 for either one would have made this #1.

luke higham said...

Michael Patison: thanks for the response.

luke higham said...

Louis: Is Ian Holm in Chariots of Fire, a 4.5 or 5.

Louis Morgan said...

Holm's a five.