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Hammerle on … 'Gravity,' 'Captain Phillips'

Robert Hammerle
October 23, 2013
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Gravity

Taking place on a damaged space station, Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is the most challenging space adventure focusing on the human heart since Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). It forces you to examine the ultimate purpose of life given the fact that we are all going to die.

What is incredible about Cuaron’s film is that there are only two actors on screen, Sandra Bullock (Ryan Stone) and George Clooney (Matt Kowalski). They are initially seen engaged in a lengthy space walk to repair their space station, seemingly standard fare until things go brutally wrong.

Bullock is a no-nonsense engineer while Clooney basically plays a version of himself. She’s as gloomy as he is lighthearted, and he enjoys trying to communicate with Houston Control with at least one story they haven’t already heard. Unfortunately, I can relate to Kowalski’s difficulty.

However, chaos engulfs the two colleagues when debris from a demolished Soviet space station enters their orbit. What’s worse, the debris is traveling

hammerle-gravity.jpg

 in excess of several thousands of miles per hour, and they have to get back into the station before being seriously hurt. When they fail, Stone is suddenly thrust into space, spinning uncontrollably as her oxygen supply dwindles. Kowalski hunts her down, eventually attaching her to himself with a long cord.

What happens next is an incredible study of what I have frequently called the human condition. As Kowalski tries to guide Stone to a neighboring station, he engages in a conversation that forces her to re-examine her life. You soon learn that she is all work and no play, something related to the tragic loss of a child years earlier.

As frivolous as it may sound, Kowalski succeeds marvelously at making fun of himself. Handsome, smart and sarcastic as hell, he tries to make Stone care about living even if it means making a transparent pass at her where he gets the color of her eyes wrong.

Central to the film, Clooney is always in a spacesuit except for a late scene that I don’t dare give away. In Bullock’s case, she is able to shed her suit when reaching a station and confronts the odds of getting safely back to Earth.

Physically injured after enduring the onslaught of the debris referred to above, there is a remarkable scene where Stone curls up into a fetal position, a tube in the background looking as if it was an umbilical cord. Clearly, the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki is as beautiful as it is mesmerizing.

The central question facing our beleaguered astronauts is whether life is worth living, particularly given the monstrous disappointments that eventually confront us all. Stated simply, is it worth sacrificing your life for another person?

In a sense, the question facing Bullock’s character was the same that Matt Damon confronted in “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), when a dying Tom Hanks looked up at the youngster and emphatically told him, “Earn this.”

Shouldn’t that be the legacy we impart to all of our children?

Captain Phillips

I know this is going to sound somewhat sacrilegious, but I was a bit disappointed with “Captain Phillips.” While it is full of the expected combination of tension and terror, I ended up feeling sorry for the Somali pirates.

When the Maersk Alabama was hijacked in 2009, it was the first American ship to be captured by pirates in over 200 years. The situation darkened quickly when the four Somali bandits kidnapped the American captain as they tried to flee in an enclosed Maersk escape vessel.

The film is at its best when it initially concentrates on the lives of the Somali pirates in their homeland. Living in destitution, a local mob recruits them to hold captured ships for ransom. You can fault them all you want for their illegal activity, but who can blame them for trying to elevate their standard of living where it was otherwise impossible to do so.
hammerle-captain.jpg As most of you know, Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, a dedicated American seaman living in Vermont. He knows that his trip from Dubai to Nairobi, Kenya, will flirt with danger, but that is the price he pays for doing his job.
Captain Phillips is a by-the-book guy, and so is his opponent, Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates. Played marvelously by Barkhad Abdi, it is a performance that could very well land him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.


As Muse and his comrades take over the Maersk, the last half of the film consistently loses strength as it devolves into an emotional duel between the two opposing leaders. Muse doesn’t want to hurt anyone and simply seeks to collect a ransom so that he and his compatriots can partially share a minor portion. There is a memorable moment on the escape boat where the captured Captain Phillips looks at Muse and says in words to the effect, “You don’t have to engage in kidnapping.” To which Muse soulfully responds, “Maybe not in America. Maybe not in America.”

When things go terribly wrong for Muse and his comrades, you feel their anxiety and fear. One of the four is a 14-year-old injured boy, and you simply hope that he finds a way to live.

While I truly admire director Paul Greengrass, he spends far more time focusing on the overwhelming power of the American military than he does the conditions in Somalia. Put another way, instead of killing pirates and bombing countries like Iraq, wouldn’t we have greater success by acting more like Mother Theresa as a nation than we do emulating Genghis Kahn?

While it is giving nothing away to tell you that Muse is presently doing a 33-year federal prison sentence here in Terre Haute, Ind., you can’t help but remember his wistful statement to Captain Phillips that he just wanted to move to America and buy a car in New York. Oddly, I hope there comes a day when he is able to do that.•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
 

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  • truthbetold..
    Review says "As most of you know, Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, a dedicated American seaman living in Vermont" most of us also know (and this has legal implications so should have been in this review in a legal paper) this movie is a work of fiction, fiction I say, son. As is the captain was not who was depicted to be. On another note, a criminal defense attorney feeling sorry for murderous pirates. Imagine that.
  • Good review!
    Hi Bob, We met this afternoon at a showing of "12 Years a Slave." (I helped save your seats for you). You mentioned reviewing movies, so I've been checking out your reviews. Good stuff! I once wrote movie reviews in my days a reporter, and I miss it. Looking forward to reading your review on "12 Years a Slave!" Nick McLain Public Policy Manager, CEDIA 7150 Winton Drive, Suite 300 Indianapolis, IN 46268 nmclain@cedia.org 317-328-4336 x124

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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