You may think you know the story of Captain Phillips and that headline-grabbing Navy SEALs rescue from 2009. But the news hardly scratched the surface of Richard Phillips’ extraordinary and harrowing days at sea with Somali pirates pointing guns at him. Tom Hanks stars as Phillips and navigates the emotional rollercoaster that is his journey with a powerhouse performance that -- and this is saying something -- is his best work.
The film commences as Hanks drives to the airport from his New England home, ready to embark on what we learn is a regular event in the Phillips house… the patriarch flying off to far-off worlds for weeks on end to lead a cargo ship and its crew through sometimes hostile waters safely from port to port. He and his wife (Catherine Keener) talk about their children as a slight tension pervades the car. This cannot be an easy life. After a warm goodbye, the film immediately follows Hanks as he arrives to take the Maersk Alabama down the dangerous waterway that borders Somalia.
Once he checks into his quarters, he sees the email that he is dreading… a warning about Somali pirates. As the ship heads out into open waters, he initiates a pirate attack drill to ensure his crew is prepared for the worst. Then, almost immediately, it happens. Off in the distance, as seen in this Captain Phillips trailer, armed pirates in small motorboats are racing towards the Alabama.
Hanks excels at portraying ordinary souls in extraordinary situations, and in Captain Phillips it is almost as if that talent has found its Super Bowl. As the pirates get closer, we witness a man who is utterly calm under the most dire of circumstances, all while taking into account the well-being of his crew. Witnessing Hanks in his element is also a moment of discovery -- it is as if the actor has found a new level of emotional power with Captain Phillips that we’ve never seen before.
When the pirates board and the lead pirate utters that line that haunted this Captain Phillips I Am the Captain clip, Hanks’ Phillips shifts from commanding to accommodating… all in the name of survival for himself, his crew and his ship.
But it is when his character is forced into a lifeboat with the four armed men that Hanks takes it up several more notches. The five men, stuck in the sweltering, airless vehicle is a study in how to film a pot boiling. Paul Greengrass could not have been a better choice to direct. The man who helmed The Bourne Ultimatum is no stranger to building suspense, and with Captain Phillips he manages to do so equally on the smallest (the lifeboat) and on the largest (the open sea) of scales.
Although the film may have the widest of scopes with the involvement of Navy warships sent to deliver justice and Navy SEALs falling from the sky with one thing on their mind and that is rescuing an American hostage, Captain Phillips is mostly the astounding film it is when it is at its smallest. Hanks is matched note-for-note by the lead Somali pirate Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi. The man is making his screen debut and the war of words and sometimes fists between Abdi and Hanks in that lifeboat over a tense majority of the film is breathtaking.
Also, our Captain Phillips review cannot recommend this film enough and that it be seen on the biggest screens possible because of the breadth of the power and scope that the IMAX format allows. Greengrass has painted a picture with a story that is equally as unnerving and uplifting.