Spoiler Alert: This column deals with the last few minutes of "Captain Phillips." If you don't want to know how the movie ends - not how the true story ends but how the movie handles it - then don't read any further until seeing the film (and you really should see it).
When critics and movie buffs talk about seeing something they've never seen before on screen, they usually are referring to some special effects extravaganza that uses CGI in new and better ways.
I had that sensation watching "Captain Phillips," the last place I expected it.
An early press screening conflicted with a concert I was going to, so I didn't see it in advance, but my wife and I went last week while I was on vacation.
Based on the early buzz, I expected it to be good. I've been a fan of director Paul Greengrass' work since "Bloody Sunday," and who doesn't like Tom Hanks. But it also was one of those movies where I thought I knew exactly what to expect - Hanks as the noble everyman who rises to the occasion, a story that at least makes some effort to show the economic conditions that lead Somalis to choose piracy as a profession, lots of handheld camera work that gives the movie a documentary feel.
And it is those things, though, to be fair, none of it feels rote and predictable. Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray pack plenty of tension and excitement into a story that most folks know the ending to before they ever walk into the theater.
In 2009, four Somali pirates hijacked a freighter and ended up kidnapping its captain when their efforts to take control of the ship and its cargo were quashed. The U.S. Navy intervened with one of the pirates being captured and the other three being killed by Navy SEALs.
The surprise comes after Phillips is rescued. We've been trained through decades of movies, especially those with one of the biggest stars in the business, to watch the hero emerge from a traumatic situation with a quip, with vengeance or, at the very least, with the stoic reserve one expects from a hero.
Instead, when Phillips is rescued by the SEAL team, he is a babbling mess. A few minutes before, he was trying to write what he thought would be his final words to his family. Now he's trying to walk while covered in the blood of his captors. He verges on incoherence as he tries to answer questions while processing the mix of terror and confusion and exhilaration that comes from surviving such a harrowing ordeal.
It's a moment that feels as honest and real as anything in any movie this year or, frankly, any year.
Stars seldom let themselves be portrayed that vulnerably (read William Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade" for an illuminating discussion on how scripts tailored at every turn to elevate the star). And it's unheard of for it to be the last image the audience gets before the final credits. Hanks may have two Oscars, but this is some of the best work of his career.
You know some studio executive somewhere along the line in preproduction had to suggest, "Shouldn't we have a scene at the end where Phillips confronts Muse (the one Somali who isn't killed)? Even if he doesn't say anything, we need a look, an exchange that says, 'I won. You lost.' The audience needs that closure."
Closure is one of those concepts that Hollywood likes to sell that seldom exist in real life. Folks immersed in real-life tragedy don't get to shake off the effect with a pithy one-liner directed at their tormentor. Most of us would be a babbling mess, whether we want to admit it or not.
Seeing it portrayed so honestly on screen takes a very good movie and elevates it to something truly memorable.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.