“Based on true events”, Captain Phillips tells the story of the titular Captain (played by Tom Hanks) and his fate at the hands of Somali pirates when his ship, the Maersk Alabama, became the first U.S. cargo ship to be hijacked for 200 years.
It is worth noting that the story’s veracity, particularly with regard to Captain Phillips heroism, has been publicly questioned by many of the ship’s crew, who viewed his decision to ignore the NATO warnings and travel within the 600 mile exclusion zone around Somalia as reckless.
That aside, and taken as a work of fiction, Captain Phillips is a solid piece of drama, and a sturdy action film. Tom Hanks’ Phillips is not your run-of-the-mill action hero, no muscle-revealing vests here, and gets to unleash all of the big guns in his acting arsenal. There is a particular scene at the end of the film which could well win him another Oscar on its own.
Central to the film is the interaction between Phillips and the captain of the Somali vessel, Muse (Barkhad Abdi). For all Hanks acting chops you can’t help but feel empathy for the pirates, and subsequently fear for their fates as much as that of Phillips, although the dialogue would suggest this isn’t supposed to be the case. We are given an early insight into life in their village, showing that they, like Phillips, are just doing their job to keep their food on the table. The rest of the crew of the Alabama are not developed as characters at all, being nothing more than extensions of Phillips himself, while the pirates all have distinct personalities. It’s hard not to root for them.
This feeling is compounded when you see the U.S. rescue effort that converges on the small lifeboat, warships decked out with all the latest technology pitted against 4 malnourished men, one of whom doesn’t even have shoes.
Paul Greengrass, probably best known for his work on the latter Bourne films, (Supremacy and Ultimatum), adds his usual directorial flourishes, with the camera moving about at a pace that would give you seasickness, and lots of shots from exterior settings through windows or doorways. He does a sterling job of ensuring that the action never becomes confusing, and that the audience can keep up with movements both on and off the ship.
The film without Hanks would have been a solid post 9/11 docudrama, but Hanks performance and Greengrass’ direction elevate it to become more than just standard action fare.
- The Contenders 2013: First-Time Actor Barkhad Abdi On His ‘Captain Phillips’ Co-Star Tom Hanks: “He’s Really Good At It” (deadline.com)
- Director Paul Greengrass talks ‘Captain Phillips’ ‘United 93′ and never making another ‘Bourne’ film (theglobaldispatch.com)