In 2009, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) left home to commander the commercial shipping cargo ship Maersk Alabama. It was something Phillips had done many times before, but the route they were taking through Africa was a dangerous one and Phillips was aware of that. Phillips tried to keep his crew fresh and prepared for the inevitable with frequent drills and lockdowns as he tirelessly did research about the area, but it wasn't enough. The vessel was still taken over by Somali pirates despite the best efforts of Phillips. Phillips did his best to negotiate with Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the leader of this group of pirates, and to get these hijackers off of his ship without hurting anyone from his crew, but the hostile situation goes into a tumultuous direction that even Phillips doesn't see coming. "Captain Phillips" is based on a true story.
Unless you're familiar with the actual real life event "Captain Phillips" is based on, you can really only judge the action thriller as a film and how much it entertains you rather than how accurate it actually is. As far as captivation goes, "Captain Phillips" is absolutely exhilarating at times. The film is a pretty even balance between Phillips, his crew, and preparation for a pirate attack and it even touches on why the Somali pirates do what they do. If they wanted to eat that day, they'd go out, find a ship, and hope its cargo was valuable so their bosses would shower them with reward money. When the two worlds finally collide, it's this really vigorous game of tug of war as you sympathize with Phillips and his crew as they are only trying to protect the load they're transferring along with the lives of those they work with while the group of pirates begins to crumble from within due to their unreasonable greed, stubborn attitudes, and the constant desire to find the mother load that would make them rich.
Director Paul Greengrass has become notorious for utilizing what most refer to as the shaky camera technique, however the technique in "Captain Phillips" isn't an issue in the slightest and that's coming from someone who can't stand the craze. The camera work in "Captain Phillips" almost feels like guerrilla filmmaking as every scene makes the audience feel like they're right along with the crew of the Maersk Alabama being held hostage and fighting for their lives. The perspective that seems like the camera man is capturing the scene with his life on the line while taking cover and the way there's just the right amount of movement to feel authentic without coming off as sloppy causes the film to be mesmerizing from beginning to end.
While Phillips' crew mostly all bleeds together, the pirates are significant thanks to their short fuses, extreme tempers, and outrageous attitudes. Nearly everyone in Muse's crew becomes wide-eyed, screams at the top of their lungs, and threatens the lives of several innocent people throughout the course of the film. They easily become memorable thanks to how exaggerated their characters are. Barkhad Abdi is the most extraordinary as Muse as he seems to be the type of man who would rather sit back and see how things play out and yet isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. Muse is a man who's set in his ways and refuses to give in even when the odds are against him and Abdi portrays the character with a kind of grace that makes Muse extremely fascinating to watch. Tom Hanks delivers a masterful performance that has to be the actor's best since "Road to Perdition." Captain Richard Phillips is obviously scared out of his mind the majority of the film, but he never stops looking for a way to slow his enemies down. His brain is always ticking away searching for a way to escape. You'll hold your breath and your heart will skip beats in the final 15-20 nerve-racking minutes of "Captain Phillips." Hanks' performance is completely disheartening and quite astounding.
While the film is mostly very good, there are stretches during its 134-minute duration that drag and feel longer than they probably should. "Captain Phillips" is more or less a hostage crisis that spans over two hours, so there's bound to be a little downtime. However, once the pirates turn up it seems as though the formula of the film results to the pirates making absurd demands and Phillips attempting to thwart them before succumbing to whatever they were asking for to begin with. Then it starts all over again while you watch Phillips try to overcome an even stickier situation. Rinse and repeat several times before the big climax. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it was more of a simple premise with a spectacular execution.
"Captain Phillips" is an action thriller filled with intense, chaotic, mayhem, absolute pandemonium, and nefariously determined villains. Tom Hanks reminds everyone why he's still one of the most talented actors still working today while Paul Greengrass adds yet another expertly woven and riveting adventure to his already action packed resume.
"Captain Phillips" was released in theaters across the country starting this past Friday, October 11.