© 2013 Ray Wong
Based on merchant marine Captain Richard Phillips own account, Captain Phillips recounts the fateful events in 2009 when Phillips cargo ship and crew were hijacked by a group of Somali pirates.
Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is a veteran captain on his route from Oman onboard of the freighter Maersk Alabama. While in the open waters near Africa, four Somali pirates, lead by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), go after the ship. Phillips and the crew fend them off the first time, but the next day, when the pirates return, they successfully board the ship. Phillips tells the crew to hide in the engine room while he negotiates with Muse and his men.
The crew manages to capture Muse, but the other men threaten to kill the crew if they don't release Muse. After Phillips hands $30,000 in cash to the pirates, they take a lifeboat to escape and abduct Phillips with them as a hostage.
The navy and a group of SEALS are now on their way to rescue the crew and the ship while the pirates continue to hold Phillips as hostage and demand a ransom. Phillips tell Muse and the other men that they will not get away, but they would not listen but instead threaten to shoot Phillips if he doesn't cooperate. Phillips has to find a way to save himself.
Tom Hanks (The Cloud Atlas) gives one of the strongest, most intense performances of his career as the resourceful, skilled but not well-liked captain. Phillips's no-nonsense, matter-of-fact style doesn't make him popular among his crew, but that's also a reason why HE is the captain. Phillips's decisions and actions are not always the best, but they are seemingly from the clearest of his own conscience. Hanks' portrayal of the character is thoughtful, stoic and human. He doesn't set out to play a "hero." He just plays a guy who is in a dangerous situation and must use everything he's got to save his crew and survive himself.
Newcomer Barkhad Abdi impresses as the pirate leader Muse. His intensity matches the character's ruthlessness, and yet his character has a sensitive and introspective side that makes the character three-dimensional instead of a cliched, stereotypical villain. In fact, both he and Mr. Hanks play their characters so humanly that they, as leads (as a newbie and a veteran actor respectively), help lift this thriller to a much more satisfying level.
Newcomer Barkhad Albidrahman also contributes greatly as Bilal, one of the pirates. The impressive supporting cast also includes Michael Chemus (The Bourne Legacy) as first officer Shane Murphy, Catherine Keener (Enough Said) as Phillips's wife Andrea, and David Warshofsky (Now You See Me) as crew member Mike.
Adapted from Richard Phillips' own account of the event, the screenplay by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) is taut, suspenseful, and full of thrills and twists and turns. The fast-paced script almost leaves no room for a sigh. From the very first minutes, the story pulls us in and holds us there. It is not a very complicated plot -- men attack ship, men protect ship and themselves, men survive -- but it is written in such a thrilling way that we can't help but wonder what is going happen next, even though we know Phillips and the crew survived the ordeal.
Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) has made a name for himself for his thrilling direction of the Jason Bourne series. Here, he uses similar techniques (fast cuts, handheld cameras, extreme close ups, etc.) to give us a thrill ride that is exciting and breathtaking. Unfortunately, as with the Bourne series, I think Greengrass relies too much on the handheld cameras. Combined with the at-sea adventures (in a small ship, nonetheless), the result can be nauseating to watch. At times I feel seasick myself, having to avert my eyes to calm my nerves. Others may have no problem with the pervasive handheld camera shots.
That said, Captain Phillips is an exciting thriller with very human characters. It is based on a true story that touches on the issues and problems with globalization and the disparity between the haves and have-nots. Even though we know the pirates are bad, we still sympathize for them because they are only humans who are the products of their own circumstances. None of these people are inherently bad people, and that makes the story more realistic and relatable.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Albidrahman, Michael Chemus, Catherine Keener, David Warshofsky
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Billy Ray (based on book by Richard Phillips)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of menace, violence and substance use
Running Time: 134 minutes
Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8
Total - 7.8 out of 10.0