In 2009, four Somali pirates boarded cargo ship Maersk Alabama and took Captain Richard Phillips hostage. Paul Greengrass is familiar with creating documentary-like films based on real life tragedies having directed both Bloody Sunday and United 93 and while Captain Phillips has a more positive outcome, Greengrass brings the same filming style to the project.
Captain Phillips chronicles the events that happened aboard the Maersk Alabama as Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) struggles to save his crew from the attacking group of pirates. It’s an intense game of cat and mouse as Phillips tries to stay calm and collective with guns in his face. Things quickly escalate when the pirates take Phillips hostage in a lifeboat in order to demand a higher ransom. It’s at that point the Navy intervenes and it becomes an all or nothing situation.
Tom Hanks gives a decent performance throughout the film but his shining moment comes at the end, after he has been rescued by the Navy. Normally this is where films would end, after the tension has died down and the situation has been resolved, but Captain Phillips shows the immediate aftermath. Throughout the film, Hanks’ Phillips has been calm under pressure and has had little difficulty in following protocol to keep his crew safe and himself alive while in pirate captivity. He’s almost this larger-than-life hero. It’s only after he’s rescued and while being examined by medical staff that he breaks down and realizes what just happened. The entire film is one tense scene after another and there is hardly a break in the action. It’s at the very end where everything hits you, and that is when Hanks is most memorable and the reason why the word ‘Oscar’ is being thrown around.
While Richard Phillips is the primary focus of the film, Greengrass does an excellent job at showing the other side of the equation and humanizing the four Somali pirates that attack the ship. Led by the fearless Muse (Barkhad Abdi), these men aren’t just ruthless villains intended to be hated. They’re people, just like anyone else, who are desperate for money in order to provide for their families while working for corrupt bosses. They’ll do anything to survive, even if that means taking on a massive container ship. Barkhad Abdi gives an amazing performance as the man in charge and brings a fiery emotion with his presence. He’s confident, fearsome, and will let nothing stand in the way of getting what he wants. Standing toe-to-toe with Tom Hanks is no easy task, but Abdi gives a near flawless performance. Even more impressive is the fact that Captain Phillips is his first ever acting role.
Captain Phillips is well-thought-out depiction of true life events with some fantastic cast performances. Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi drive the film under Paul Greengrass’ direction and make it one of the most intense films of the fall.