Directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93), Captain Phillips is a masterpiece of modern film making. Tense, emotional, exciting, and terrifying, this is a powerhouse of a film that hits all the right notes without overstaying it’s welcome. Brilliant performances by Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi highlight this wonderful film that demands to be seen by all.
The captain of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship, Captain Richard Phillips is charged with getting the ship from the Port of Salalah in Oman to Mombasa. While on the voyage, the unarmed ship is hijacked by Somali pirates looking for a big payday. After the crew fends off the pirates, they escape, taking Captain Phillips with them as a hostage that they intend to ransom to the insurance company of Maersk. The United States Navy is called in to negotiate the release of Phillips.
A simple story, without excessive embellishments make for one of the best films of the year. At the heart of it all is Tom Hanks as the title character. We all know that Hanks is a brilliant actor and it should come as no surprise that he turns in another electrifying performance in this film. No other actor can play the everyman like Hanks. In this film, he gives a stunning performance as Richard Phillips, Captain of the Maersk Alabma.
The biggest standout in the film, though, is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates that takes Phillips hostage. In his first film, he provides a nuanced, layered villain who you can empathize with. While he is the villain of the piece, he isn’t really a bad guy. He is just doing what he has to to survive, all at the bidding of an unshown Somali warlord. He knows what will happen to him if he returns home without the hostage. He knows he is in lose lose situation but is forced to continue. He turns is a magnificent performance, and along with Hanks, provides a real heart to this film.
The simplistic story actually serves this human drama much better than expected. The film stays firmly on the characters of Phillips and Muse and the tense bond the two form. Greengrass directs this film with a deftness that other, less skilled, directors would fumble and turn into a tear-jerking fraud, much like the much-maligned Patch Adams. Greengrass avoids that with his cold, unflinching visual style. Greengrass is a master filmmaker in the making and will soon be joining the ranks of Spielberg, Coppola, and Scorsese as the directors who influence the next generation of filmmakers. This film only further cements him as a master.
Captain Phillips is a masterpiece of modern cinema. Thought provoking and tense, this is a film that deserves to be seen, much like Schindler’s List, Amistad, and United 93. While the historical ramifications of the Somali pirate attacks are yet to be known, this film is easily as good as those others and demands to be mentioned in the same breath.
**** out of ****
BIZZAM!! Fun Facts!
- Captain Phillips is based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty.
- Despite the film being nominated for Best Picture at the 86th Academy Awards, Tom Hanks was not nominated for Best Actor. Paul Greengrass was not nominated for Best Director. Barkhad Abdi was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.