Movie Review: Captain Phillips
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Captain Phillips
Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenwriter: Billy Ray
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi
Columbia Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 134 Minutes
Release Date: October 11, 2013

Directed by Paul Greengrass (United 93) and written by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games), Captain Phillips is based on the book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty.

The film is an examination of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. The story focuses on the tense relationship between the Alabama’s commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), and Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse (Barkhad Abdi), his Somali counterpart.

Few directors have the ability to evoke a harrowing, real-life event like Greengrass – if you’ve seen United 93, you know exactly how affecting his films can be. Captain Phillips is an expertly crafted, documentary-style film with impressive performances from Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, who makes his film debut here. Hanks delivers some of his best work in years, playing the Hanksian Everymanâ„¢ – an ordinary guy who, despite insurmountable odds, survives and becomes a hero.

Abdi, however, threatens to steal the film right out from under Hanks with his portrayal of a desperate man with nothing to lose. A skinny man with wild eyes and a wide grin, Abdi’s Muse and his crew attempt to hijack ships and take hostages in hopes of receiving a large ransom.

After successfully raiding Phillips’ container ship, Muse and his fellow pirates take the New England captain into a lifeboat and make their way to the Somali coast in hopes of negotiating with the U.S. Navy and receiving $10 million in exchange for Phillips.

Of course you know how this story plays out – but it’s the way Greengrass tells it that keeps you invested in the events unfolding. Tense and gripping, Captain Phillips is a realistic recreation of heart-rendering events – a high stakes story set on the high seas.

The film was shot off the coast of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea where Greengrass and his crew spent nine weeks aboard an actual container ship. Hanks didn’t meet the Somali actors playing his captors until they stormed the Maersk Alabama and pointed guns at him. As a result, the performances captured appear genuine – when the pirates begin screaming their lines in Somali, Hanks is as confused and scared as we are.

Captain Phillips feels tailor-made for Greengrass’ kinetic style, combining the exhilarating action of The Bourne Ultimatum and Green Zone with the documentary-style realism of Bloody Sunday and United 93. It’s a powerful film that manages to be both thrilling and suspenseful even though we all know how it ends.

While it isn’t the cinematic spectacle that Gravity is, Captain Phillips will no doubt be nominated for acting, directing, writing, editing, and cinematography awards – and it just might land Hanks his third Academy Award.


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