Director Paul Greengrass, whose past work includes United 93 and two entries in the Bourne series, now brings to us another film based on true events in the form of Captain Phillips. The result is a tight, well-paced, and most importantly, successfully gripping action-drama hybrid, and should not be missed.
Taking place in 2009, the movie follows the titular Richard Phillips (played by Tom Hanks), who is tasked with sailing his cargo ship near the pirate-heavy coast of Somalia. Luck turns out to not be on his side that day, as a quartet of Somalian pirates hijack his ship and demand large sums of money that he doesn't have. When all they get is $30,000 instead of the millions they want, they end up escaping in a lifeboat with Phillips as their hostage, and from there, the Navy gets wrapped up in the situation as well, with no apparent easy way out.
Performances are good all-around, with Hanks delivering his usual A-game, and newcomer Barkhad Abdi as pirate leader Muse also making a good impression. Other characters, like Phillips' wife (Catherine Keener) and the crew of his ship, aren't around long enough to develop any memorable character traits, but the story itself is engaging enough that that didn't bother me while watching.
It should be noted that Greengrass uses a lot of handheld camera work, which sometimes results in the now-infamous 'shaky-cam' technique being used. I've never been a fan of this, but on the whole, things felt a lot more steady and easy to track for me than other recent films like Elysium, making this the rare shaky-cam film that didn't disorient me.
Another big plus comes in the fact that the villains aren't one-dimensional baddies being evil for no particular reason. The movie establishes almost immediately that Muse and company are being berated and threatened by higher-ups in their hometown, leaving them with few obvious choices. Indeed, Phillips seems to realize this as the film progresses, and by the end, he's begging them to turn themselves in rather than throw their lives away, and Hanks' performance sells the fact that he feels awful about their situation, especially towards the end.
This is a rather late review, as the film has been out for almost a month and I just finally got around to seeing it last night, but I feel that I should definitely recommend it to anyone who reads this. If you can't stand tense situations in movies, it may not be your thing, as it's chock-full of those, but for everyone else, this is an exciting, engaging, and even emotional story, and up there with such films as Rush and Gravity as one of the better things to see this fall.