Captain Phillips is the riveting biopic of Captain Richard Phillips and his crew during the 2009 hijacking of the American ship, Maersk Alabama, by Somalian pirates. It is a thriller designed to have you gripping the edge of your seat pretty much the whole time and for all of its 134 minutes I felt like I couldn’t take my eyes of the screen. With lots of argument happening over the snub of director Paul Greengrass and lead actor Tom Hanks by the Academy, I can finally understand why. This is one of the best, if not the best, I have ever seen Tom Hanks. The legendary actor shows a tremendous amount of range throughout the film, especially in the last 15 minutes or so. Greengrass, although I’m not too familiar with his other works, demonstrates expert skill in directing this heroic tale without making it feel over-the-top in any way and falling into the usual tropes of an action/thriller movie of this kind.
Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) is the captain of the container ship Maersk Alabama traveling in international waters off the coast of Somalia. At this time, Somalia is known to be home of pirates such as Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who hijack ships and hold the crew for ransom. It is almost inevitable that the Alabama will get hijacked when you take in regard its location and the fact that it was traveling alone, and Muse and three other pirates eventually succeed in climbing aboard the ship. What entails is an intense order of events which work to highlight the complexities of this highly dangerous situation.
What makes this film such a huge success with both critics and the general audience is the mere realism depicted in the two main figure heads of the film. Captain Phillips, although the real Richard Phillips has been dismissive of the scenes that display acts of unflinching heroism, feels for the most part like an everyday man. He has a family, he worries about his kid’s education, and he goes to work, just like any other man. There’s even a scene where Phillips detachedly orders his crew to wrap up their coffee break and get to work, much to the disdain of the crew. All in all, Phillips doesn’t really fall into the clichés of the heroic sea captain that you might expect walking into the film. In fact, he even comes off as slightly ignorant of the dangers of traveling so close to the Somalian coast and the potential danger of piracy (a fact that has the Maersk shipping company currently in a lawsuit with 11 members of the crew) despite going through multiple drills to prepare the crew just in case. In result, we have a “hero” who feels real to us, something that probably couldn’t have happened without the amazing performance put on by Hanks. Although he didn’t get any nods from the Academy this year, this film (and Saving Mr. Banks, although I have yet to see that one) has only reaffirmed a fact that most of us already know; Tom Hanks is one of the most dynamic and talented actors in Hollywood today.
Barkhad Abdi was a limousine driver before landing this monumental role that has landed him an Oscar nomination and probably many more great roles to come. It’s hard to believe that he didn’t have any acting experience prior to this project as he is amazingly dynamic as the “villain” of this story. How easy it would have been for this character to turn into an exaggerated caricature of a Somalian pirate but Abdi is far from that. Abdi and the powerful script written by Hunger Games writer Billy Ray both work together to show us sides of Muse that make him more than just “the bad guy” who wants to get rich. Just like Phillips, he is a man who is doing a job and is motivated out of pure necessity. The movie does a great job of showing this. Although, a little background on the chaos going on in Somalia at this time would have worked to express Muse’s motivations even further. By the end of the movie, you can’t help but feel a little sympathy for Muse and his young and clueless friends (all of the real pirates were 19 years old or younger), despite how evil their deeds were. In fact, their situation felt quite sad to me…something you don’t commonly feel for the “villains” of a movie.
How true is this portrayal to the real event that occurred 5 years ago? According to Phillips himself and several crew members the specifics are of course a bit skewed, although the general events are correct. Despite the liberties taken with the story in order to make it a little more Hollywood-esque , this was a riveting film that was both action packed and emotionally charged. Greengrass’ decision to portray both Captain Phillips and Muse as real people is what is most responsible for this film gaining so much admiration from audiences. Despite all of Phillip’s faults and fears, he went through this ordeal and lived to tell the tale. Captain Phillips isn’t just another entertaining thriller devoid of emotion and substance, it’s the fantastic story of two men brought up against each other out of the consequences that come with the faults in human nature.