Director Paul Greengrass’ new thriller, ‘Captain Phillips’ focuses on his signature filmmaking style of using a jittery hand-held camera to intensify this real-life event. If you don’t know all the details about Somali pirates hijacking the American cargo ship Maersk Alabama, it will make it more riveting for you. The two standout performances come from Tom Hanks who plays the real-life hero Captain Phillips with compassion and intensity. Hanks plays the perfect everyman and delivers one of the best performances of his career. Among the Somali pirates, Barkhad Abdi portrays Muse, one of the most terrifying villains you’ll witness on film due to his gaunt features. As he and Hanks face off on the bridge, Muse says, “I’m the captain now.” It’s a chilling scene.
Greengrass is no stranger to tense docu-dramas. His taut, fast-paced style is evident in his other works such as ‘United 93’ and two Bourne films. The opening scene is of Phillips’ house in Vermont as he prepares for another routine voyage. The ride to the airport with his wife (Catherine Keener) is a bit awkward making statements about how things will be tougher in life for their college-aged kids. It foreshadows upcoming events related to the instability of globalization. Once he reaches his ship, it shows the magnitude of these vessels. Phillips knows the hazards of traveling through dangerous waters. He wants his scrappy crew to walk through some drills to be prepared for the risky voyage. Wasting no time, Greengrass thrusts Phillips and his crew into a real life cat and mouse game with pirate skiffs closing in on the slow-moving vessel.
Although the filmmaker takes no stand for or against the pirates, he allows us to spend some time with them as they prepare for the high seas. Greengrass effectively shows the young Somali men (some teenagers) in a desperate situation with not many options for a better life. The surprise is how vulnerable the cargo ship is to an attack with such a small boat compared to its enormous size. As the pirates fire automatic weapons and try to hook a ladder to the edge of the ship, the only defense for Phillips and his crew are some flares and high-pressured water hoses. It’s hard to believe there are no guns on the ship but maritime law forbid the use of firearms on cargo ships. When the pirates finally make it to the deck, the suspense keeps building scene after scene. Phillips uses every skill he can muster to keep his crew safe and stay in control of his ship.
‘Captain Phillips’ is a gripping portrait of an ordinary man thrown into an extraordinary situation. Hanks’ performance is brilliant showing the physical and emotional toll the ordeal had on the captain. Once you see Hanks in the closing scenes, you’ll agree he deserves an Oscar nomination. It is the most intense and heartbreaking moment of the film. When the four pirates take Phillips hostage on a lifeboat that looks like a small floating submarine, the action keeps intensifying. The audience is thrust from the large ship to a small claustrophobic lifeboat. As the Navy SEALS are called in, it will be reminiscent of the explosive ending to last year’s thriller, ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ It will keep you on the edge of your seat to the closing credits.
Greengrass’ tense filmmaking style and Hanks’ exceptional performance make ‘Captain Phillips’ a must-see thriller. Check out Sony’s official trailer http://youtu.be/TzU3UJuV80w.
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