Captain Phillips (2013)
From the director of The Bourne Ultimatum & United 93, and starring two-time Academy Award winning actor, Tom Hanks (Philadelphia & Forrest Gump) in the titular role, Captain Phillips is a brutally intense, edge of the seat thriller about the hijacking of an American cargo ship which took place in 2009 and ended with a stand-off between the US Navy & the Somali pirates’ lifeboat from the cargo ship, where they held Captain Richard Phillips hostage. A Hollywood biopic done right, Captain Phillips is a riveting drama about survival in the face of danger which also offers an insight into the lives of the pirates, who we stereotype as heartless & greedy thugs but who are simply people driven by desperation. And with this unbiased depiction, this film observes a different side of the myriad effects of globalisation as well.
Based on a true story & adapted from the book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea, written along with Stephan Talty by Richard Phillips, who was at the heart of the entire events, Captain Phillips is an on-screen dramatisation of the Maersk Alabama hijacking that took place in 2009 in the Indian Ocean, during which the merchant sailor Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage by the Somali pirates, led by Abduwali Muse, in a lifeboat for 5 days and, for the major part of the film, covers Phillips’ plight in the face of surmounting danger which finally culminates with a rescue operation, successfully carried out by US Navy SEALs. Without adding heroism or evilness to any of its characters, Captain Phillips tries to capture this real event with as much authenticity as possible by keeping its potent drama at a human level.
Paul Greengrass is an immensely talented filmmaker not just because he knows how to shoot a film in a highly detailed, quasi-documentary style to make it look blazingly real but also because he knows how to pace it by introducing an extremely tense atmosphere of uncertainty, thus maintaining a firm grip over the viewers’ attention from beginning to end. And with Captain Phillips, he does a great job once again & all his trademarks turned out to be a plus for this film. The screenplay by Billy Ray also deserves a mention as it beautifully compliments the director’s filmmaking style, thus making his job relatively easier. Cinematography makes extensive but very impressive use of handheld shots to give the entire film a realistic, docudrama feel while the editing escalates the tension as the movie progresses in a highly effective manner. Additional uneasiness is further fuelled by Henry Jackman’s intense score and overall, the entire production design is first-class stuff.
Coming to the acting department, Tom Hanks delivers a fabulous performance as Captain Richard Phillips and even though his grounded portrayal of a man trying to think rationally amidst all chaos to save his crew & ship is, no doubt, impressive to watch but in the film’s final moments before the end credits, Hanks proves once again why he is universally hailed as one of the greatest actors of all time. And yet, matching the screen presence of a heavyweight like Hanks eye-to-eye is the newcomer, Barkhad Abdi, who plays the fearless Somali leader Abduwali Muse with vibrant energy & the scenes between these two are a treat to watch as both men try to outwit each other with their mind games. Abdi also renders his character with calculative approach & implicit unpredictability & was able to earn our empathy more than once throughout the film. The rest of the supporting cast also chips in with aggressive performances and the entire casting, on an overall scale, is an absolute good.
On an overall scale, Captain Phillips is a viciously crafted, explosively executed, incredibly entertaining & highly satisfying cinema that is tailor-made for Paul Greengrass’ directional style and benefits greatly from its potent screenplay, bleak yet arresting photography, tight editing, tense ambience, energetic pace & the biggest strength of this film; its highly impressive & captivating performances and significant emphasis on the accurate portrayal of the entire event. The movie never for once feels dull or loses its momentum or shies away from its subject matter and although the entire nail-biting experience of this film is emotionally draining, it’s worth every moment in the end. Plus, the strong emotional punch delivered by Tom Hanks in the film’s final moments, which flawlessly captures the trauma of his character’s entire ordeal, is no short of perfection. Promising enough to make a prominent mark in the upcoming awards season, Captain Phillips is one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences of the year, so far and is definitely worth your time & money. Do not miss it.