‘Captain Phillips’ is a flawless film. Director, Paul Greengrass, known for two ‘Bourne’ movies and ‘United 93’ among many others, is an expert when it comes to emotional thrillers and Tom Hanks (let’s face it, Tom Hanks can do anything) is spectacular in the title role.
The film is fraught with tension right from the beginning. The foreshadowing is heavy. For instance, in the opening scene, Phillips and his wife are rushing out the door to get to the airport. On the way, they discuss their kids (one in college, one on the way) and the spontaneity of Phillips’ job as a freighter captain. These scenes show that, despite the fact that Phillips has become a type of celebrity and hero due to his ordeal, he is (or was) just an ordinary man. He was just a guy, going to work. And although Phillips has a dangerous job, the unfortunate moral of the story is ‘bad things happen to good people’ and this quiet, extremely normal opening scene lets you know something extraordinary is about to happen. Later, when Phillips arrives at the freighter, he immediately notices unlocked cages and asks the crew to take extra security measures. When he receives an e-mail alert of piracy in the area, he orders his crew to perform a drill.
As fate would have it, in the middle of this drill, Phillips spots two suspicious skiffs rapidly approaching the freighter. At this point, all the foreshadowing and uneasiness Greengrass directed comes to a head and the plot thickens.
We all know what happens next. The Maersk Alabama is overtaken by Somali pirates. Their leader is Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi. His cohorts have nicknamed him ‘skinny’ but what he lacks in build he makes up for in attitude. Muse is determined to take the Alabama, seek ransom and come out of this ordeal a millionaire. He is confident in his actions, because he’s done it before. In fact, his village is full of pirates who work under a relentless boss, who demands and expects success.
From the minute the pirates step foot on the freighter, the film becomes stressful (in a good way) to watch. Although, viewers know how this story ends, Greengrass knows how to make your palms sweat and make you worry as though you don’t know what happens to your hero.
The third act of the movie moves our characters from the massive freighter to a tiny lifeboat. Phillips is stuck in this tiny vessel with his captors as they try to make their way to the Somali shore (a 36 hour trek). With no food and barely any water, all the men start to unravel. The youngest of the pirates, a 14-year-old boy, is desperate to get home, the strongest of the pirates simply wants to kill Phillips because he’s convinced there is no way they will survive and their leader, Muse, attempts to stay calm, with his eye on the prize. Viewers are given a brief moment to feel for the pirates when Muse lets Phillips know that in Somalia, there is no other way to survive than to do what he is doing now.
In regards to intensity, ‘Captain Phillips’ never lets up. When you think it’s safe to breathe again, Greengrass hits you in the stomach with the most emotional final scene of a movie I’ve seen in a long time.
I would not hesitate to recommend ‘Captain Phillips.’ It is a beautiful and impressive film. When you watch it, note that no special effects were used.
Watch for Hanks later this year in ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ the story of the adaptation of Mary Poppins.