This fall is shaping up to be the season of Tom Hanks, as he becomes the first actor to portray Walt Disney in a feature film in “Saving Mr. Banks”, in theaters on Christmas. But right now you can see him play another great, real-life figure, Richard Phillips, in the thriller based on a true story, “Captain Phillips”.
Directed by Paul Greengrass and based on Phillips’ account of the events, the film opens with Phillips helming the U.S. container ship the Maersk Alabama on a trip around the horn of Africa. It is immediately apparent that Phillips is concerned about Somali pirates, who are notorious for attacking ships passing through that area—and their ship is unarmed. So it isn’t much of a surprise when the ship is attacked by pirates, a small band led by the ruthless, determined Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Despite Phillips’ best efforts to deter the pirates, they board the ship and quickly take control, forcing him to think on his feet to keep them all alive until the Navy can arrive.
Hanks’ accent is the only flaw in his performance, and it’s a small one. His portrayal of Phillips turns him into a complex character, a brave and smart man who doesn’t let his fear show and puts himself before his crew. Knowledge of his character’s background isn’t required to feel instantly sympathetic to him. Abdi is also fantastic, although the rest of the supporting cast just kind of fade into the background.
Despite the strong performances from its leads, “Captain Phillips” does have some flaws in the story. The first half of the movie is gripping and suspenseful, as the pirates take over the ship and Phillips must use his wits to keep them from finding and hurting his crew until help arrives. This is also the part where we get to know Muse and witness the better part of his and Phillips’ mental sparring; every time Phillips thinks he has them outwitted, he discovers that Muse is a lot more intelligent than he thought, and that he wants a lot more than what would satisfy the average man.
But the level of suspenseful maintained seems to go in reverse from there. While it still has its thrilling moments, the second half of the movie is actually less interesting. The Navy takes control of the situation, leaving Phillips with less to do. And it’s him that we care about and are interested in; the Navy soldiers in charge of the situation aren’t give any distinctive characteristics to make us care about them and in fact they all sort of blend together after a while. Furthermore, the other half of the supporting cast, the Maersk crew, just kind of disappear at the midway point and aren’t focused on again, which is a little strange. But Hanks and Abdi still support the film enough to keep it going, especially in its intense climax.
Ultimately, it is Hanks’ portrayal of Phillips that makes this such a strong film. He gives the character enough depth to make the story that much more realistic and moving, despite a few story flaws. It’s still rather early in the season, but don’t be surprised if we hear about this movie—specifically Hanks—more as award season approaches.
Runtime: 134 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and substance use.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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