Tom Hanks is one of the most respected American actors working today. Every film he makes gets notice. 2013 has been a good year for Hanks. Most recently he stars in the film Saving Mr. Banks while his first film released this year was Captain Phillips. Directed by Brit Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy), the film is based on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks – Philadelphia, You Got Mail), a captain working for U.S. company Maersk, and his crew who had their cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Both Saving Mr. Banks and Captain Phillips have created Oscar nomination buzz for Hanks for both of his performances.
It had been 200 hundred years since the last U.S. cargo ship was hijacked. Captain Richard Phillips and his crew of the Maersk Alabama sailing from Africa to the United States were the ones that broke that streak. Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is the head of a small crew of Somali pirates who have been sent out by their bosses with the instructions to not come back unless they have a lot of money. The pirates send out in a small motor boat in pursuit of a ship to rob. They come upon the Maersk Alabama and set their sights upon it. Captain Phillips and his crew, who are unarmed, try their best to ward off the pirates, but the armed men prevail.
Most of the crew gets down below to hide in the engine room. Captain Phillips is taken hostage by Muse and his men. A cat and mouse game begins between the captain and pirate. Captain Phillips tries to keep Muse from finding his men and Muse tries to locate the missing crew and get some money in the process.
In desperation after an American naval ship comes to rescue Captain Phillips and capture the pirates, Muse and his crew take Captain Phillips hostage. A tense stand-off ensues in which the lives of Captain Phillips and Muse and his crew all hang in the balance.
What Greengrass does best with this based on a true story film is he does not fall into the trap of making it a one dimensional good vs. evil film. The so-called bad guys are relatable and are shown to do what they do out of desperation. They aren’t just evil, rather they are driven to do what they do due to their circumstances. Everything is gray just like real life. Complexities of character and morality are rampant. This makes everything in the film seem realistic and amps up the tension even more.
Tension is another thing Greengrass brings to the film. Even when you know that the Somali pirates are going to get on the cargo ship he still manages to make their boarding of it an exciting sequence. Part of the tension is due to his skill while the other is because of the partnership forged between Tom Hanks and his acting partner, Barkhad Abdi (first film). Abdi’s performance comes out of nowhere and is a real breakout. His hints of a sensitive and intelligent soul that has been broken by a hard life shines through in almost every frame he is in. Almost like two dance partners, the actors work in tandem and create a rhythm that lends itself to the story. Two very human performances.
All this adds up to a palpitation inducing psychological thriller that was one of the strongest films of 2013.