Captain Phillips Movie Review
Pairing a talented director in Paul Greengrass (BOURNE ULTIMATUM, UNITED 93) with one of the greatest actors of all time in Tom Hanks is a recipe surely destined for success. Full of emotional tension from beginning to end, I am pleased to report that along with an adapted screenplay by Billy Ray (THE HUNGER GAMES, SHATTERED GLASS), CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is every bit the film one might hope from this lethal combination. Based on the true story of the 2009 United States cargo ship hijacking by Somali pirates, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a riveting tale of danger and heroism.
Tom Hanks is Captain Richard Phillips on a routine job shipping cargo to Mombasa, Kenya. His new crew while perfectly effective seems to be a bit lackadaisical when it comes to operating protocol. Captain Phillips has a kind but authoritative way about him as he begins to run his crew of roughly 20 men through a variety of emergency tests. However, during this time an alarming vessel shows up on the radar quickly approaching the MV Maersk Alabama. An extraordinary situation is about to become very real as four ragged Somali bandits try to board from a dingy old motorboat. But the big advantage is these men have machine guns. What happens next is a series of frightening events as Captain Phillips sacrifices himself as prisoner, risking his own life to save his crew.
The leader of this gang of pirates is Muse, also known as Skinny, performed by first-time actor Barkhad Abdl. Using unknown names for both crews was a wise choice as it made the danger feel much more authentic. Cutting back and forth between the two leads, we also see Muse picking out his crew and establishing dominance that parallels Captain Phillips. He may not look it but Muse is a fearless man who has no problem using heavy violence. The standoff between Captain Phillips and Muse is exceptionally well played out. Captain Phillips holds his motives close to his chest in order to keep his crew safely hidden and trying to outwit Muse who threatens the lives of the other members to ensure “No games.”
Shot in his usual hand-held, shaky documentary style of filmmaking, director Paul Greengrass puts the audience right into the action. This type of storytelling could be considered gimmicky but Greengrass always covers material in which it is the perfect technique that no one does better than him. The intensity is pulsating throughout the picture, keeping the viewer involved for the long haul. The third act comes close to running a bit repetitive and long, but it’s important to establish just how claustrophobic and scary the situation is for our hero. The final moments are one of the most powerfully emotional and genuinely inspiring I’ve seen all year, achieved masterfully only after being rung through the gauntlet that transpired previously.
Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks has not been nominated since 2000’s CAST AWAY. I believe he will once again find himself on the nomination ballot. He truly is what brings the film over the edge to greatness as his performance is nothing short of exquisite. Raw, emotional and subtle, Hanks is who you want to captain your ship, representing the everyman, a father figure if you will. He perfects a character who is a father to his crew, a father to his kidnappers and a father to the audience. An ordinary man who proves you don’t have to be an action star to be a hero.