This may seem counterintuitive but, if you’re looking for a solid dose of reality, get thee to the multiplex.
A spate of worthy movies, all based on real-life events and figures, are about to arrive on the nation’s screens. These films are all the more powerful and affecting precisely because they tell stories that really happened.
Not that there aren’t fictional films that have the ability to emotionally grab viewers this fall — go see “Gravity,” which opened a week ago, and “All Is Lost,” due next Friday — but knowing that the story a movie tells is a true one adds an extra frisson of tension and emotion.
Here’s the lowdown on three new movies — the first two are terrific and the third pretty good — that all tell true stories:
Captain Phillips, Opens Friday, Oct. 10.
Tom Hanks, giving yet another finely calibrated and moving performance, plays the title character, Capt. Richard Phillips. He was the commanding officer of an American cargo ship that was boarded and taken over by armed Somali pirates in 2009 while near the Horn of Africa — the first American-registered vessel to be captured by pirates in nearly two centuries. The great accomplishment of this film is that director Paul Greengrass (who made two of the “Bourne” films and “United 93”) and screenwriter Billy Ray don’t try to simplify things but rather make clear the global economic and political forces that reverberate through this single incident. That said, there’s nothing hectoring or pedantic about the film. It’s a tense, involving tale that builds and builds to final scenes all the more devastating for their understatement.
12 Years a Slave, Opens Oct. 18.
Solomon Northup was a free black man living with his family in Saratoga, N.Y., when he traveled to Washington, D.C., for a temporary job in 1841. He was kidnapped, drugged and sold into slavery, spending 12 long brutal years working for several owners in the South before finally regaining his freedom. That’s the bare bones outline of this powerful historical drama, based on Northup’s own memoir, first published in 1853. In recreating those facts, the film movingly brings to life the horrors of slavery and the innate dignity and yearning for freedom in every human. British actor Chiwetol Ejiofor gives a star-making performance as Northup and familiar faces such as Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Michael Fassbender turn up in supporting roles. One of the pleasures of the film is the choice by screenwriter John Ridley and director Steve McQueen to preserve the archaic and yet eloquent locutions of 19th century speech. “Gone With the Wind,” this sure is not.
The Fifth Estate, Opens Oct. 18.
While not as involving or dramatically coherent as the previous two films, this biopic about Julian Assange and the founding of WikiLeaks features a standout performance by fast-rising British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (familiar to viewers of “Sherlock” on PBS). He portrays Assange, that Australian-born, international man of mystery who believes that any and all leaks are good. Clearly taking as its inspiration the superior “The Social Network,” “Fifth Estate” attempts to dramatize the early days of WikiLeaks and to show Assange’s transition, as seen through the eyes of one of his partners (played by German actor Daniel Brühl), from gifted computer whiz and crusader to megalomaniacal and mendacious manipulator. For the record, Assange, from his bunker at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, has denounced the film.