Running time: 134 minutes
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Yul Vazquez, Max Martini, Barkhad Abdirahman
Who to see it with: Someone into realistic action involving relatable characters; Paul Greengrass fans
Captain Phillips is an action thriller based on the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking by a group of Somali pirates. This true story is a great fit for a action film. I didn't expect much going in, but maybe I should have trusted director Paul Greengrass considering his work on the Bourne sequels and United 93. CP briefly introduces Phillips (Hanks), his wife (Catherine Keener, onscreen for only a couple of minutes) and the Somalis, spending almost its entire running time at sea. Once the captain sees the pirates, the story becomes a long string of suspenseful moments and tense interactions between them and Phillips' crew. Hanks is great at portraying the captain's multiple states of mind. He's smart and well-prepared but very nervous and edgy, with a tendency to sometimes talk too much. His performance is good throughout the film, but capped by a very emotional final scene. The hijackers' actors, each in their first credited roles according to IMDb, make them threatening while seeming in over their heads (appropriate since they were teenagers). They initially seem like average criminals but become more complex and surprisingly sympathetic during the second half.
CP's grounded in reality action is often more effective than that of most blockbusters because it feels real and involves developed characters. Phillips and the crew's attempts to thwart the hijacking are clever and low-tech, and tension is increased by the claustrophobic ship setting. Those familiar with the incident will know the outcome, but the relationship between Phillips and the pirates should provide a real sense of danger and give CP a strong, dramatic foundation. Phillips feels for them while displaying anger and despair, and they provide a sense of the desperation that would drive them to commit such a dangerous act. Those unfamiliar will find that the story takes unexpected turns that complicate the situation. I like that CP never emphasizes politics and avoids glamorizing the military or anyone else as heroes. Its straightforward narrative maintains interest by focusing on the humanity of the crew and their attackers, along with exploring their reactions when plans go awry. Captain Phillips' dramatization of 2009's Maersk Alabama hijacking sails past other thrillers with its strong performances, interesting antagonists, and focused depiction of an intense, unusual crisis.