Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, David Warshofski, Corey Johnson, Max Martini
Plot: When a navy ship is taken over by Somali pirates, Captain Phillips (Hanks) tries to protect his crew and cargo, while the pirates get gradually more unstable…
Captain Phillips was the captain of the vessel that fell victim to a group of Somali pirates in 2009. This is the harrowing tale of how he led the survivors and made great sacrifices to make sure no one died and the cargo was kept safely in American hands. This film is the second true story I have seen this month in the cinema that is seems so perfectly suited as a movie, that Greengrass can pretty much just tell the story and the suspense does the rest of the work. He could have easily coasted making this film, but thanks to some great directing from Greengrass and some phenomenal work from Tom Hanks (seriously, has this guy been in a movie that is any less than great?), that never happens.
In fact, this movie could be a love letter to everything we love about Paul Greengrass as a director. He takes this action and uses a fly-on-the-wall directional style to make it feel as if this fighting is being done in a documentary. He uses close-ups that makes all of the actors feel like normal people being filmed without realising. Even Tom Hanks doesn’t feel like he is this great celebrity, but just a normal guy thrown into extraordinary events. I have seen this style before with films like ‘The Wrestler’, but I have never seen it, at least not in recent memory, applied to an action like this. When the guns start firing and the camera angles come into play, there is a real sense of panic. Greengrass keeps you on the edge of your seat, even when the tension is coming from a group of people looking at a radar screen, worry in their eyes.
Something I was worried about is the fact that most true stories get stuck on the idea of depicting a real person, who is very much alive at this point in time. I was worried that the film would try to praise the real Captain Phillips so much to the point, where he loses humanity. The script actually confirmed my fears, including moments where Phillips can just sense danger in the air, because he is this great navy captain. It seemed out of place. Luckily, Tom Hanks stepped into the role and made it his own. He threw humanity into the mix and, like Hanks does with everything, gives the performance of a lifetime. Phillips feels authentic in every way and his smarts feel natural. When the pirates show up and start pointing guns at people, the cat and mouse game the two Captains have with each other is fun to witness. Performance-wise, both Hanks and Abdi are terrific.
I didn’t quite get this sense of political power from the movie as the critics have been claiming there is a lot of. I didn’t come away from this movie, understanding Somalia any more than I already did. More could have been done with the introduction of Muse, rather than him just being commanded to hijack a boat. I did get the sense he was just another victim, but this sense of higher power wasn’t present as I was promised. While we don’t get an intriguing political statement with Captain Phillips, the presence of the Somalia Pirates does give us somewhat of a smart action thriller. The fight scenes on the boat feel claustrophobic and tense, never missing a beat. I could have happily spent the entire movie with Captain Phillips and Muse wandering around the shadowy corridors of the navy ship, Phillips buying time for his crew and Muse trying to figure out what he was playing at. It would have 2013’s idea of Die Hard and this would have been up there with the best movies of the year.
Sadly, Greengrass cuts too early to the final stage of the movie, where Captain Phillips and the pirates are trapped in a lifeboat, trying to orchestrate a deal. It is an important part of the movie and a terrific ending, but the film spends far too much time there. The set is too small for Greengrass to put this fly-on-the-wall camera style to much use and the movie gets trapped in this claustrophobic space. We did have a smart action movie, but Greengrass spends the last 45 minutes of the movie here, turning ‘Captain Phillips’ into a glorified hostage movie. Yes, this is a fantastic hostage movie, but we have seen every trick in the book before, especially seeing as this is a true story that happened very recently; we know how this is going to end. Everyone does the best they can with the two leads performing excellently. The climax is brutally fantastic and Tom Hanks ends the film with an outstanding performance as a mentally-broken hostage. But that could have been done with twenty minutes, rather than a grinding foot on the brakes that slows the film down far too early. For now, it is living with OSCAR hype, but I think looking back, people will agree that there are so flaws to this movie.
Final Verdict: Pacing issues aside, Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi are fantastic as the two captains caught up in a conflict, while Greengrass brings this true story to life with his keen direction work.