In short: Somali pirates hijack an American cargo ship, threatening the lives of Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) and every crew member aboard the MV Maersk Alabama. (watch the trailer)
Hanks is back to true form as a freighter captain fighting to save the lives of his crew. The two-time Oscar winner is compelling the entire film as he outsmarts the pirates and fights to survive the ordeal. And just when you think Hanks will settle for a 'great' performance, his heartbreaking and emotionally raw moments in the third act are impossible to look away from.
And Hanks is arguably not even the best actor in 'Phillips.'
Barkhad Abdi - know the name, it will definitely be brought up during Awards Season. Abdi's turn as the lead Somali pirate is equal parts intelligent, charming, ruthless, desperate and commanding. He even manages to make the lethally dangerous pirates somewhat sympathetic.
Hanks and Abdi are two equally-matched adversaries, each forced into desperate choices as they fighting for their lives. This dynamic thrusts the narrative forward, forcing these two men to make increasingly dangerous decisions.
While the actors succeed in giving dramatic depth to 'Phillips,' director Paul Greengrass succeeds in injecting breathtaking, kinetic energy to this intense ride.
Greengrass is best known for, what many consider, directing the best films in the 'Bourne' series: 'The Bourne Supremacy' and 'The Bourne Ultimatum.' But a strong case could be made that Greengrass's two best films do not have 'Bourne' in the title - they are now 'United 93' (which earned him a Oscar nom for Best Director) and now 'Captain Phillips.'
This true story is essentially two intense films woven together into one narrative. The first half is a cat-and-mouse, siege/invasion story following the freight crews attempts to escape the Somali pirates. The second half is a tension-wracked standoff between two parties, neither of which is willing to accept defeat. This dual nature of 'Phillips' is handled brilliantly by Greengrass, who constantly keeps the tension wound tightly between desperate Americans and volatile pirates.
'Phillips' also signals the end of a drought for Tom Hanks. During the '90s Hanks could do no wrong: consider that 'Saving Private Ryan,' 'The Green Mile' and 'Cast Away' were released within a three-year period. But the years since 'Cast Away' have not been filled with hits - including box office disappointments like 'Charlie Wilson's War' and 'Larry Crowne.' If 'Saving Mr. Banks' is the Oscar contender Disney hopes, then 2013 will mark a very good year for Hanks.