Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdiraham, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Catherine Keener
Written by: Billy Ray, (book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea”) Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty
Running Time: 134 mins
Release date: 18th October 2013
A word of warning about going to see Captain Phillips. Be prepared to bite your nails down to the bone because this is one of the most tense movies of the year and thanks to superb direction from Paul Greengrass, some excellent performances and a cracking script, this leaves most thrillers wishing they were half as good as this.
Captain Richard Phillips has just been given command of a freighter ship travelling around the horn of Africa. Notorious for playing by the rules, he may be tiresome to his crew but Phillips wants everybody to be by the book. In the middle of a training exercise preparing themselves against pirates, the drill suddenly becomes real when four Somali pirates, armed and extremely dangerous, board Captain Phillips ship. Being as cool and calm as possible, Phillips does everything in his power to make his crew safe and that no hostages be taken. In the process, it is Phillips that finds himself being taken and so a cat and mouse game begins as Phillips tries to outsmart his captors, while at the same time making sure he stays alive.
This film works on so many levels that its hard to know where to start. Paul Greengrass is an expert at directing action. he has proved himself with the Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum so tackling a film about Somali pirates is a walk in the park. Except he goes one better. Not content with just producing another run-of-the-mill action drama, he immerses his audience, so they are no longer on lookers but feel like they are part of the action. This is done so brilliantly in the scenes on board the life boat, when you find yourself feeling very claustrophobic.
He also gives us villains that aren’t just flat, one-dimensional, characterless thugs. Setting up a back story of where these four men come from, we know that this isn’t just a random crime gone out of control. These are fishermen wanting a better life and so their only way of doing so is working for men who tell them to jump and they jump. These men are carefully drawn characters, who aren’t just mindless thugs.
This is helped by four terrific performances from the men playing the pirates. Barkham Abdi is especially good as the skinny leader, Muse, with his gaunt look and bulging eyes, he looks like a desperate man but inside he is as scared as the next man. It’s a rare thing to see a performance in which you can kind of understand the motives of a bad guy and make him almost sympathetic. This is not taking anything away from the situation, which is shocking and sometimes heart-stoppingly nasty but it takes solid acting to pull these parts off and they do it magnificently.
Then there is Tom Hanks in the title role. Hanks has proven time and time again that he is one of the finest Hollywood actors and here he ups his game again. As the cool-headed Phillips, we are taken on a journey by a man who is willing to risk his life for the sake of others, while trying to understand and reason with his captors so he won’t end up either a hostage for life, or dead. Just when you think we have seen the best of Hanks, he pulls out a finale that is unlike anything you have ever seen before and very unlikely you will see again. An absolute tour-de-force.
To say Captain Phillips is good is like saying the Mona Lisa is nice. This is far more than good, this is a modern masterpiece, a film that works on so many different levels, a film that grips you from the first frame and refuses to let go. It may release you for a few minutes before grabbing you again. The middle section does dip a little but its a minor blip in an otherwise incredible and suspenseful 2 hours 10 mins. Don’t be surprised to see it in the Oscar nominations next year and if Greengrass doesn’t get nominated for best director, there is no justice in this world.
Rush to see this superb drama but make sure your nails are long enough for biting and you can handle very choppy waters.