Based on an incredible true story that many already know the outcome, Captain Phillips features a great use of tension, claustrophobic filming and brilliant acting to keep the audience spellbound until the end to see how the story would play out.
Such is the magic of Tom Hanks (who deserved yet another Oscar nomination for his performance) and his special brand of playing the ‘everyman’ to the hilt.
Hanks portrays the real life Captain Richard Phillips with an energy and a heroism that is unequaled. At the same time, Phillips is never more than just a man trying to survive and to keep his crew safe. Teamed with director Paul Greengrass’ brilliant style of filmmaking, Hanks and company make every moment of this film feel very real to the audience.
The film’s plot tells the story of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. Greengrass takes the audience on a heart-pounding journey as the pirates make their demands and Phillips trades himself for his crew. The Somali pirate captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi, who holds his own against Hanks), takes him hostage, and a cat-and-mouse game ensues where the audience is never really sure who is the cat and who is the mouse.
What could have been a slow, uninteresting ride (the vessel the pirates have taken Phillips in are only about 150 miles from the Somali coast), become a race toward the conclusion, both in emotions and actions.
With U.S. Navy vessels and a SEAL team following the tiny lifeboat, Phillips is alone with the pirates and must negotiate for himself and his own life. At one point he does escape, but is forced back into the boat and beaten. The Americans are in contact with the Somali pirates, but the situation is so touchy, that they pull back.
Finally, the pirates are convinced to let the carrier ship give them a tow as the boat is running out of fuel. This is based on the lie that is told to the pirates—that elders from their tribe are waiting on the shore to negotiate with them.
Once the tow is in place, the tension is tightened to unbelievable lengths. Through code, Hanks is told to stay in a certain seat and the pirates are sent a “uniform” for him to wear. This is actually a t-shirt that will distinguish him so that the SEAL snipers won’t shoot him.
As good as the SEAL snipers are, the design of the lifeboat makes getting a clear shot very difficult and Phillips is forced to endure more punishment and despair. Greengrass makes the most of the boat’s design (almost like a surface submarine with an enclosed, steel top), and makes sure the entire scenes feel as claustrophobic for the audience as the actors.
With no air flowing inside and very little room to move around, Phillips and the pirates are seem to be in a floating hell. Things go from bad to worse inside the ship as they run out of water and the pirates start arguing amongst themselves. Phillips is smart enough to make the most of any opportunities he might find, and it becomes clear that he is reaching a point where he must get out of that lifeboat – even if it means he will die trying.
While the SEALs work for needed “green light” to take the shot (all the pirates must be killed at the same time to ensure Phillips safety inside), Phillips must endure, and endure he does. At one point, he frantically tries to write a letter to his family because he is sure he is going to die. It seems an impossible situation with only one outcome: the pirates might die, but he is going with them.
Although it might not seem it at first glance of the cover, Captain Phillips is an incredible thriller that hooks you from the opening minutes and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The pace builds and builds and the ending is not a let-down. Hanks gives another great performance. The talented actor is lost in the role and all you see is Phillips.
On Blu-ray the film looks and sounds incredible, and comes loaded with some “behind the scenes” features. The features show the huge amount of work the filmmakers and cast went through to get the movie right and make it feel real. They include interviews with Hanks, Greengrass and the real Phillips where they discuss what it was like shooting on Maersk Alabama’s sister ship instead of a soundstage and the level of realism it allowed the film to have.
Simply put, Captain Phillips is one of the best films of the year and easily one of Hanks’ best performances. The film makes the most of its setting and keeps the audience (who might already know the outcome of the story) enthralled to see how it will play out on screen.