Film Review – “Captain Phillips” (Director: Paul Greengrass)

Captain Phillips

It’s pretty unusual to start a review with a recommendation, but I want to grab your attention before  I continue.  Okay, sat nice and comfortably?  Good.  “WATCH THIS FILM!!!”

Okay with that out of the way, on to the description.  This film is a depiction of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in 2009 by a crew of Somali “pirates” and the subsequent kidnapping of the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and the hostage/kidnapper relationship with the “pirates”, most prominently the leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi).

This film has been hyped up as a potential Oscar contender left, right and centre… and quite frankly, with good reason.

The storyline is written less as a film and more as a three act play – the lead up to the hijack, the events of the hijack itself and the kidnapping of Phillips.  This means that the tension that slowly builds at the start of the film and is maintained throughout.  However, there is no over the top action sequences or heroics which stretches credibility.  It is the “ticking clock” aspect of the story which comes into play in the third act alongside the portrayal of the tense relationship between Phillips and his kidnappers that drives the story to its shocking conclusion.

Director Paul Greengrass follows the strong work that he is known for with films such “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”, “Green Zone” and “United 93”.  As with “United 93”, he, along with scriptwriter Billy Ray, handles the story sensitively and, as I say above, without sensationalism whilst pushing the right emotional buttons to maintain the tension of the story.

I have to admit that the last couple of films that I have seen where Tom Hanks has headlined (“Larry Crowne” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”) have not exactly been my favourites in his collected body of work.  Fortunately, however, he has well and truly redeemed himself in the role of Phillips.  Whilst he has been strong in the majority of roles in which I’ve seen him, it’s been his “everyman” roles that have appealed to me the most such as John Miller in “Saving Private Ryan” or Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13” – both ordinary men capable of extraordinary courage.  He brings that quality to the role of Phillips, especially when in his confrontation scenes with Barkhad Abdi.  In addition to this, he shows that he is still capable of taking on the rigours of “action” scenes in a thriller of this nature.

However, the best quality that Hanks brings to the fore in this film is a stillness and calmness in the role.  It’s a case of what he doesn’t say that adds gravitas, but what he shows in his facial expressions – especially in the hostage scenes.  The nearest performance that I can equate it to is Gary Oldman’s fantastic performance in 2011’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in the role of George Smiley.

When pundits are already tipping Hanks this early for an Oscar nod, believe them.  This could be the year for a very strong nomination, if not a third award.

Another actor who should be up for an Oscar is Barkhad Abdi in the role of Muse.  Considering that this is his first acting role, I will say that he has a strong acting career ahead of him, as long as he picks the right roles following this film.  He not only has to match the acting level that Tom Hanks brings to the film – and Hanks brings his “A Game” – but he has to craft a complex character in the ideology of the role and his relationship with Phillips.  Muse is portrayed as a man in conflict – on the one hand, he is shown as having no choice in carrying out the bidding of the people senior to him, whilst on the other hand he brags about a high-jacking that netted $6 million.  With that conflict, you are provided with a three dimensional performance where Muse moves between a man who engenders some, maybe sympathy is the wrong word, but understanding for why he did what he did whilst in turn disliking what he stood for.

Early on in the film, Muse tells Phillips to look in his eyes as a way of showing that he is sincere in his role as the head of the “pirates” who has hijacked the ship.  As an audience member, Abdi also commands that you “look into his eyes” in a figurative sense as both he and Hanks demand the viewer’s attention in every scene that they are in.

Whilst there is a large and strong supporting cast, this is Hanks and Abdi’s film as they push and pull the audience through two and a quarter hours of tension leading up to a shocking, yet fitting, climax which in not sensationalised and leaves you with an emotional punch.

It’s no coincidence that my three favourite films for this year – “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Rush” and now “Captain Phillips” – are all based on real life events, which goes to show that although we all like a film to take us away from everyday lives and real world events, sometimes we need to be reminded that there is also inspiration and stories to tell in the world in which we live.


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