CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a rather extraordinary film, dealing with a subject matter that has been very news worthy for several years, taking a true account and not only respecting all those involved but keeping the film very grounded and extremely well made. This is a very impressive effort from director Paul Greengrass, who uses his skills to make this almost seem like a documentary and put the audience in a position where every part does feel very real. This is an intense ride, one that will likely stick with the viewer long after the credits have rolled.
The story here (a true one) is about Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), he is the Captain of a US cargo ship. The ship is off to deliver aide, in some dangerous waters, with a warning of pirates being around the regions. Capt. Phillips seems to feel like this mission is in danger and those thoughts prove to be true as the ship is boarded by a group of Somali pirates. The MV Maersk Alabama was the first US cargo ship to be hijacked in over 200 years.
This film delves into not only what this siege was like for Capt. Phillips and his crew, but also the pirates as well. They are not simply one dimensional villains here, they are actual characters led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who aren’t there to hijack the ship for the pleasure of it. They are in a gang, and they have been ordered to hijack ships, where the leader is the one who profits from the hijacking, not the actual pirates. But where they live, this is pretty much all they have to try and survive. This message gets across very well and clear and even comes up for discussion between pirates and Phillips in order for him to understand their actions. There was never a moment in this film where it wants to make the pirates evil villains, they are actually very sympathetic characters and in all honestly it works better that way.
The authenticity of this film can be debated, no doubt about that. Having read non-fiction books about the subject of modern day piracy it seems for the most part that they have not sugar coated anything and tried to be true to what the situation is and has been. It wants the audience to take away an understanding of what it is like for both sides, and it is very much appreciated here. The situation in any case is very dire and there is no way it is going to end well. The pirates are out of their depth and Phillips and crew are not really prepared for the situation despite the drills they have. In all it really is a very sad case and not one any of us would ever want to be a part of.
Performances here are excellent, led by Tom Hanks who rarely is anything but fine. Here though he really disappears into the role and unlike in say Saving Mr. Banks you really aren’t seeing Tom Hanks you see the character. This is a very honest and raw performance, a believable one that does reach out to the audience. There is one scene in particular that contains some of the best acting for 2013 and Hanks brought tears to my eyes. Barkhad Abdi is fantastic as Muse, the lead pirate and man trying not to disappoint his people by taking on this impossible mission. You can feel his pain through his eyes, and does strike a chord with the audience too. It isn’t the life he wants, and this comes across well through his performance. He doesn’t feel confident but he needs to pretend his is for the sake of the mission. Truly he gives one of the best overall performances for 2013 and the award nominations are well earned.
Paul Greengrass as given us a top film here and he was the perfect person to bring this story to the screen. It could have gone very wrong, but he showed a lot of respect for the real story and the real people involved. The documentary feel made this a very intense experience and like something such as THE HURT LOCKER is really is a white knuckle film. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS may be a one time watch for some but it wont soon be forgotten.