Directed by Paul Greengrass
Written by Billy Ray
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Baarkhad Asdirahman, Catherine Keener, Chris Mulkey, Faysal Ahmed
Director Paul Greengrass has built a name for himself in the last decade with his action hits in the Bourne franchise as well as his ventures into documentary style drama with United 93. Captain Phillips looks to retell the true story about a captain whose ship was attacked by Somali pirates. It may look like the “Throw Tom Hanks an Oscar” show, but does it deliver something more to leave audiences with something to chew on?
Captain Phillips begins as the good captain, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), says goodbye to his wife as he begins his next trip around the horn of Africa on the boat “Maersk Alabama”. The movie breathes during the set up as we get a little bit of time to see how Phillips interacts with his crew while also getting to get a glimpse into the violent world that the Somalians come from before they head to the sea. It doesn’t take too long for the initial contact to happen when the pirates make a run on the boat. Their initial attempt fails, but it only drives their leader Muse(Barkhad Abdi) to try harder the next day. The pirates make another attempt on the boat that proves successful. Once on the boat, the Somali pirates hold Phillip’s some of his crew relentlessly hostage. Captain Phillips must do his best to out think the pirates to protect his both his crew and his life.
The premise is nothing but straightforward and Paul Greengrass takes every advantage to pump this hostage thriller full of a sense of urgency that make the stakes feel both huge and real. The actors playing the Somali pirates(Barkhad Abdirahman,Faysal Ahmed,Mahat M. Ali) take no prisoners on these roles. These characters always seem blood thirsty, unstable, and unpredictable which instantly ups fear and dread you have for the crew of the Alabama. The movie had that edginess that left me with that feeling that anybody could be killed at any second which left which had me on the edge of my seat for almost the entirety of the two and a half hour runtime. The tension in this movie arrives like a freight train; loud, long, and unstoppable. The intensity only builds in the second half of the movie when the Navy gets involved to which seems to make Phillip’s drama feel all the more traumatizing.
The only real problem with the story is that there is a point in transition to the second and third act that seems a bit drawn out despite the roller coaster like emotions that unfold on screen. This is a very straightforward story that was exasperatingly exciting, but I think it could have actually been an even tighter experience if it had shaved out about ten minutes to become the lean mean thrill machine it potentially could have been.
Going into this, I just assumed that this movie was going to be Oscar bait for Tom Hanks and to some degree I wasn’t wrong. This role has all the making’s of an Oscar nominated role. It’s simple, straightforward, and has something to say. The reason these roles are many times up for Oscars is because actors breath such depth and complexity into roles that aren’t really much on paper. Tom Hanks does the same in Captain Phillips and the results are excellent. This is undoubtedly his best role since his turn as Charlie Wilson in 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War. He appeal isn’t terribly complicated, but it’s one that all of us relate to: family.
Before the final act of the movie when his drive is verbalized, his motivations are played very subtly which is where the performance soars. Any actor with some decent chops could have played this character believably, but Hanks brings in a finesse and angle to the role that breathes in a depth that makes the character feel real. Tom Hanks is so good that you forget that you are watching Tom Hanks perform which is quite the feat for an actor we’ve become so accustomed to seeing day in and day out. I can’t say for sure that he deserves and Oscar for the role, but he certainly deserves some prestigious applause.
Paul Greengrass’s direction is just as exceptional as you’d expect. He knows how build suspense out of a situation that is normally just another run of the mill plot point, but this material gives hims the chance to run at you so intensely you’ll practically latch onto your chair. His skill and understanding of how to tell story is unquestionable in this instance, but what is more debatable in this film is whether or not his shaky cam and quick cuts actually benefit the story. This technique was impressive in United 93 because it brought a sense of reality with the documentary feel. He brought the same technique to his two Bourne movies to some mostly effective results. Whether or not it works in Captain Phillips is very much going to be a preference. I was drawn into the movie so quickly I hardly noticed the tight angles and the shaky movement, but some of my fellow viewers found it nauseating and difficult to follow. So much so that a couple of people left the theater. I enjoyed the gritty guerrilla style because it brought a down and dirty feel to the events unfolding that wouldn’t have been the same with more traditional techniques.
Overall Captain Phillips in an intense retelling of a really incredible story of how one man protected his crew. The movie isn’t an “action” movie per say, but is filled with intensity, suspense, and often times even feels like the most dramatic thrill ride you’ve ever been on. Tom Hanks brings his A+ game to a role that otherwise would have been very paint by numbers. Paul Greengrass may not get an Oscar nomination for his direction in this movie, but if he continues to tell these stories with this level of intensity, its only a matter of time before he hits the right story that will completely blow critics and audiences away. For now he’s left with a really excellent suspense thriller that is worth every penny you can pay to see it.