In 2009 the US cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama was boarded and hijacked by Somali pirates, and this is the true story of Captain Phillips, his crew, and their struggle for survival. It is directed by Bourne veteran Paul Greengrass, and stars Hollywood’s favorite Every-Man, Tom Hanks. Forget your fun-loving Caribbean pirates, this is a taut thriller, with two stunning performances at the core.
Two great performances.
Some tremendous tension.
Second act lull.
It’s a bit long.
Paul Greengrass – Director
Billy Ray – Writer
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Barkhad Abdi – Muse
CAtherine Keener – Andrea Phillips
Captain Phillips begins with the eponymous hero quietly and meticulously getting ready for another day at work. Then we are brought to Somalia, where Muse is sleeping with a gun hanging over his head in the very opening shot, and is then forced out to sea to fish for boats and the subsequent ransom. At it’s core this movie is about two men going to work, under very different situations, doing what they have to to survive, and provide for their family. All the while director creates a real authenticity to everything you see, which serves to brilliantly heighten the considerable tension.
Central to the success of this movie are three men: stars Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi; and director Paul Greengrass. Each of these men do stellar jobs, with the writer Billy Ray providing a solid script for them to work with. The script paints two compelling characters, and pits them in a war of wills, and words, with Hanks doing the lions share of the talking.
Captain Phillips is a movie of two halves, with the first half being some of the most unbelievably tense stuff I’ve seen on screen in years. From the moment the Hanks’ captain sets foot on the boat you can feel it start to build, including a chase scene that is more exhilarating than it should be, all building to Abdi and his men boarding the ship. There is a brief moment of reprieve, before the tension gets ratcheted up again. And it doesn’t stop once the pirates board. That is when the war of wills between the two leaders kicks off.
AWARD CALIBER PERFORMANCES
Hanks is really brilliant as a normal man, stuck in an exceptional circumstance. His plight is believable, as is his courage. The high point of Hanks’ performance, the clip that’ll be played at the Oscars, comes in the very final minutes, as Hanks shows depths of quiet emotion he hasn’t tapped in quite some time. This is the best he has been in over a decade. Barhad Abdi stands opposite him as Muse, and despite being a total new-comer is not at all over-shadowed by Hanks being at the top of his game. His Muse is a somewhat sympathetic character, while at the same time being very sinister. He says so much with just his eyes, and his gaunt features, and to me is a little reminiscent of Omar from The Wire. As the leader of the Somali hijackers he brings a real menace to the role, and a scary authenticity to their threat. There are other actors in this movie, each giving uniformly solid performances, but it is the two main men that make the movie.
All this is made feel real by director Greengrass, who manages to mix the pathos of United 93, and the intensity of the Bournes Supremacy and Ultimatum. He keeps the tension at unbearable levels for the first half, and then at the clear and obvious half-way point things inevitably hit a lull. It is not that the second half is bad, far from it, but it simply couldn’t maintain that intensity the whole way. Then he cranks it back up for the final twenty or thirty minutes, which are really rather brilliant. His use of camera brings an almost documentary feel to everything, adding to the realism, and the plight. He also manages to keep his camera surprisingly still, which is refreshing. Especially considering how his shakey-cam at sea might have been too much for delicate stomachs to take.
BOTTOM LINE: BEST BOAT MOVIE SINCE THAT BIG ONE SANK
So…this is a damn fine movie, with two great performances, a gripping story, well written, and directed to wring every last drop of tension out of it. It does feel a little long at times, and is noticeably light on levity, but this is a good looking and tense movie, one that will likely get plenty of awards attention in the coming months.