Captain Phillips Review
by Daniel Rester
With Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks gives his best performance since Cast Away back in the year 2000. He reminds us once again why he is one of the greats, bringing an emotional intensity and his everyman-like performance charm to the table. What’s also excellent is that Hanks is surrounded by major talent on both sides of the camera as well, making Phillips an even stronger film.
Phillips is based on a true story, recalling when Richard Phillips (Hanks) was taken hostage by Somali pirates back in April of 2009. He and a crew of about twenty were manning the cargo ship Maersk Alabama. The ship was attacked by four pirates, including a lanky leader named Muse (newcomer Barkhad Abdi). Eventually Phillips was taken hostage in the situation, and then the Navy and others got involved. I’ll leave some of the details and ending out in case you the reader does not know the full turn of events.
Helming Phillips is director Paul Greengrass, a master in building tense atmospheres on the screen. Coming off of such films as United 93 (2006) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2008), Greengrass shows, like Hanks, that he hasn’t lost his touch. He’s one of the few directors that manages to use shaky cam in an artful way (it really fits for the ocean settings here), and he also never falls back on too many special effects for thrills. He instead just relies on good old-fashioned drama to do most of the work, making situations completely believable and shaking the audience’s nerves. Quick kudos should also go to the music and editing, which help to rack up the intensity.
Greengrass works off of a script by Billy Ray here. Ray’s writing pumps the drama full of energy, providing credible dialogue and a sharp observation of the various situations. He and Greengrass also manage to make the pirates human and not just villains. During all of the craziness, they are also able to slightly explore the opportunities for Americans versus others, the boss-employee relationships that affect people on different levels, etc. The film does go on too long (past two hours) and gets bogged down by drawing out the material, and a few extra layers to the characters would have been nice, but for the most part both Greengrass and Ray provide terrific work here.
Hanks is in Oscar mode here, but the others around him impress as well. This is especially true of Abdi. This is Abdi’s debut film, yet he has already left a mark. Seriously, this guy has it. The actor perfectly matches Hank’s acting in all of their shared scenes, delivering an unforgettable performance that’s terrifying and completely real in feeling. The other actors playing the pirates are also solid, and Catherine Keener pops up with her skills in a few moments as Phillip’s wife.
Phillips is an expertly made nail-biter. It loses some steam by the end and omits a few little facts here and there that may cause some people to be irritated, but for the most part it is edge-of-your-seat entertaining. It also features two amazing performances that deserve some award attention.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-)