Captain Richard Phillips: There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.
Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America.
Captain Phillips is an astonishingly well-made thriller, and that’s saying something considering the majority of the audience already knows the ending. Perhaps the most suspenseful and taut two hours of the past several years, the film is relentless in its intensity as it retells the story of the 2009 hijacking of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama and subsequent hostage situation involving the captain, Richard Phillips.
Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips, and as the film opens we learn that he is a devoted family man whose job demands are starting to wear thin with his wife, Andrea (Keener). Phillips has been assigned to a cargo ship that will be delivering supplies to Africa, but the route takes him and his crew through pirate-ridden waters. Before long the ship is boarded and hijacked by a group of four men, led by Muse (Abdi), with the intent of seizing all the cargo. Their plan crumbles, but not before Phillips is held as a hostage as the men try to escape in a lifeboat.
Director Paul Greengrass never takes his foot off the accelerator after fifteen minutes of set up. His shaky-cam style has yielded mixed results from me in the past, but he and screenwriter Billy Ray know how to tell a story and they do a brilliant job here. The maximum amount of suspense is squeezed out of every scene, including the truly “did this really happen?” finale involving the Navy Seals. Hanks has rarely been better, portraying Phillips as an intelligent man of his crew and his efforts to talk down the pirates are convincing and, at times, ballsy. His acting in the final moments is among the best of his career. Barkhad Abdi turns in a star-making performance in his very first role as the aggressive and determined Muse. The interplay between him and Phillips provides the film’s best human moments and an organic tension that we rarely see at the movies these days.
Captain Phillips represents Greengrass’ best film to date and Hanks’ finest work in years. The story remains powerful, even if Ray’s screenplay doesn’t dig deep into the political implications of the crisis. It’s a sweaty-palmed, relentless thriller – and a damned good one.
Studio: Sony Pictures Releasing
Length: 134 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use.
Theatrical Release: October 11, 2013
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Billy Ray. Based upon the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips & Stephan Talty.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener, Michael Chernus, Corey Johnson