Review: Captain Phillips

Poster for 2013 thriller Captain Phillips

Genre: Thriller
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 16th October 2013
Runtime: 134 minutes
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer: Billy Ray
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M Ali
Synopsis: Based on a true story, this is the tale of an American freighter boarded by Somali pirates and the eventual kidnapping of the titular seaman.



Buzz for the 2014 Oscars is just kicking into gear. A number of the big awards movies, such as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, are already out in America and, with Blue Jasmine presenting a probable Best Actress, they’re starting to appear in the UK as well. Riding that wave is Paul Greengrass’s real life tale of Somalian piracy, which might be the most gripping film of the year.

Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is at the helm of cargo ship the Maersk Alabama when small boats appear on the radar, containing ruthless Somalian pirates. Despite his best efforts, Phillips find his ship taken by the pirates, led by the brutal Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and soon, a hostage situation develops.

Originally slated for Ron Howard, Captain Phillips immediately marks itself out as a Greengrass movie. It’s difficult to know how different a Howard version would’ve been, but the handheld camera work and the sheer emotional depth from every perspective makes this something unique to the United 93 helmsman.

Anchoring (if you’ll pardon the pun) the film is a career defining performance from Tom Hanks. As the beleaguered captain, Hanks brings the everyman sensitivity necessary for the role, giving real dramatic heft to the gripping scenes Greengrass creates. It doesn’t matter that the true events are in dispute, the Captain Phillips that Hanks plays is a total hero. His final scene is a tour de force of tear-jerking acting that really nails what is often the hardest quality to convey – humanity.

Even at his best, Hanks is almost out-acted by newcomer Barkhad Abdi who delivers a performance of ferocious genius as pirate leader Muse. Captain Phillips is at its best when it works as a two-hander between Hanks and Abdi, who both hold their own in the battles of wit and weaponry. The former is a lock for a Best Actor nomination and it would be great to see Abdi get some deserved recognition as well.

Captain Phillips would be nothing though without the twin brilliance of Greengrass and writer Billy Ray. The script is full of deft commentary on globalisation and Greengrass ratchets up the tension constantly, ably managing the confined environment of the lifeboat in which Phillips is taken hostage.

No film this year has been able to conjure the claustrophobic tension that Greengrass manages in Captain Phillips. Even given the knowledge of how the real story ends, the film manages to be gripping from start to finish, which is no mean feat. It’s an emotionally draining experience, but one that is cinema in its purest form.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

It’s bit early to be making Oscar predictions, but Tom Hanks has certainly made a strong case for Best Actor with his remarkable showing in Captain Phillips. With the dream team of him, Greengrass and newcomer Barkhad Abdi, the film was never going to fail.

Claustrophobic, tense and with an emotional gut punch of a finale, it’s a seafaring triumph of direction and acting that certainly deserves to make waves.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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