Watch Captain Phillips Full Movie and POSTER
Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Catherine Keener. Directed by Paul Greengrass. 134 minutes. Opens Oct. 10 at major theatres. 14A
The high seas drama Captain Phillips is a survival saga that raises the pulse and tweaks the conscience.
Directed by Paul Greengrass, who makes smart thrillers, and starring Tom Hanks in his best role in years, this isn’t simply a tale of heroism and adventure. There is anxiety on both sides of the gun, as resolve slams into harsh reality.
We certainly cheer on Hanks as real-life seafarer Capt. Richard Phillips. In the spring of 2009, Phillips faced almost certain death after his cargo ship and crew of 20 were hijacked off the coast of Somalia by four armed men who demanded millions of dollars in ransom.
We are also asked to consider the desperation of the four pirates. The well-rounded script by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Shattered Glass), based on Phillips’s own account, shows how the hijackers are driven by extreme poverty and also by the warlord’s bullets that await them back home, should they fail in their mission.
Hanks dials down his usual ebullience to radiate quiet determination as Phillips, a grey-bearded and bespectacled merchant mariner in his late 50s nearing the end of his career.
As he leaves his Vermont home and flies off to Oman to meet the MV Maersk Alabama, the cargo ship he will guide through the pirate-infested waters around the Horn of Africa, he speaks to his worried wife (Catherine Keener) of mounting global uncertainty caused by terrorist attacks and economic calamity.
“Everything’s different ... You’ve got to be strong to survive out there.”
The camera jumps to an impoverished Somali village, where an intense wraith of a young man named Muse, played by arresting newcomer Barkhad Abdi, awakens from fitful slumber to hear an ultimatum from the stooges of a local warlord.
Cargo ship heists are down and the warlord isn’t happy. Capture another ship soon, the stooges tell Muse and his friends, “or you will answer for it.”
Muse isn’t inclined to argue, nor does he lack courage. He and other village men form a small flotilla of tiny boats to sail out some 200 kilometres to take on the Alabama, a laughable situation except for the machine guns they carry.
Meanwhile, Phillips prepares his crew for a confrontation many of them aren’t willing to face.
“This is a real-world situation!” he barks. “They’re not here to fish!”
It’s in such furious moments where director Greengrass outclasses all rivals. He recreated airborne Sept. 11 terror in the docudrama United 93 and sent Matt Damon on the run in the Jason Bourne spy drama series, so a watery showdown is right in his wheelhouse.
It’s also here where Captain Phillips departs from A Hijacking, a well-received film of similar theme released earlier this year by Tobias Lindholm, a Danish filmmaker. Lindholm seemed reluctant to go with conventional thriller aspects, even choosing not to show the actual pirate attack.
Greengrass dives right in, and so do cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and composer Henry Jackman. They’re all eager to use Hollywood techniques to depict headline realism, but they give the actors room to breathe.
Abdi courts Oscar attention for his forceful performance — as does Hanks, already a two-time Best Actor winner.
Captain Phillips turns into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, with the captain and the pirates taking turns as hunter and hunted.
If you follow the news, you know how the story ends, with an assault by Navy SEALS that recalls the recent Zero Dark Thirty, another fact-based actioner.
What you can’t prepare for is how this film leaves you: not singing “God Bless America,” but rather pondering a dysfunctional world where hollow-eyed men of skin and bones feel compelled to take on a superpower.
The pirates really would prefer to just be fishermen, Muse tells Phillips, but global economics thwart them: “Big ships come to our waters, take all the fish out. What is left for us to fish?”