Captain Phillips (2013) 4.57/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 78.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 134 mins
Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman

Paul Greengrass channels his high energy ultra real style of direction into the true story of the Maersk Alabama under the command of Captain Richard Phillips and its hijacking by Somalian pirates in 2009. It might sound a bit low key for the director of both The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum but when one considers that the incident culminated in a naval confrontation involving two destroyers and a SEAL team, one begins to appreciate the former wartime documentarian’s interest. A similar predisposition can be discerned within the appetites of its star given that Tom Hanks has, throughout his career, shown a preference for real life characters who have experienced extraordinary events and/or characters who walk a line between tense action drama and inner turmoil. The result is just about everything such a collaboration promises to be.

After a sturdy but efficient introduction to Hanks’ Captain Phillips before he leaves the US for Africa, the film begins switching back and forth between the Somalian pirates as they prepare for their next mission and the Maersk Alabama as its captain and crew set sail. Through these sequences we get to know the two main players: Phillips, the serious-minded but decent company man and Muse, the deceptively diminutive and equally no-nonsense leader of the pirates, played with real electricity by Barkhad Abdi. The stage is set for a tense battle of wills and from the moment the pirates are sighted approaching the ship to the close, Phillips and Muse make for a fascinating pair of adversaries. Hanks for his part is simply terrific and he is pushed all the way by the nascent talent of Abdi who announces himself on the screen with astonishing composure.

There’s no doubt that Greengrass is in his element here as he weaves this central dynamic with a series of spell binding set pieces. There’s an impressive scope to these sequences too ranging from the pirates’ daring attempts to commandeer the ship (and the equally valiant attempts of the crew to stop them) to a scintillating SEAL operation at the apex of the film. There’s an awesome quality to this story that centres on bravery, expertise, and desperation and with the help of Barry Ackroyd’s luscious cinematography and Christopher Rouse’s pulsating editing, Greengrass teases it out with a series of immense images such the SEAL team parachuting towards their objective in near total darkness or the Alabama zigging and zagging in an effort to avoid the pirate skiff. It adds an energy to the film that few movies can equal and combined with the authenticity of everything from the ships to the actions of the various crews, it gives the film a real sense of weight.

However, it’s the the synergy between action and acting that makes Captain Phillips so special and this is best illustrated in the final 20 minutes when Greengrass, his cast of actors, and actual navy personnel work together seamlessly to produce an utterly breathless and remarkably affecting finale – a finale in which Hanks reminds us all of exactly how good an actor he really is. Captain Phillips does run a little long (as is the increasingly irritating trend these days) but this ending, the central pairing of Hanks and Abdi, and the brilliantly held and ever tautening tension more than offsets this single weakness.

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