Tom Hanks is perfectly cast in the title role of Captain Phillips (opening today), a movie based on the real-life hi-jacking of a U.S. ship by Somali pirates back in April of 2009. It's a thrilling film directed with panache by Paul Greengrass, whose previous films - The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93 and Green Zone, to name a few - share the same dizzying, shaky, visual style as Captain Phillips. This method works given the subject matter Greengrass is usually covering, creating tension even when none seems apparent in the lives of the film's characters.
Oh, but there is serious tension for Captain Phillips and his crew once things get going. Hauling cargo around the coast of Africa, the freighter is approached by two small vessels with armed Somali pirates. These "bad guys" could have easily been cast as pure antagonists, but they are shown to be more than that. Back in Somalia, these men are all but forced into this life by unnamed and unseen tyrant "bosses." Several villagers beg to go along for the heist, because the money that they can make in doing so is the only path out of their own hells on the mainland.
The four main pirates - all non-actors prior to this film - bring distinct personalities to their role. The most fleshed out is that of their leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Abdi gives a great supporting performance in this his first role.
The thrill of this film comes mainly from the procedures that Phillips, his men and our military take in response to a hi-jacking attempt. When the pirate boats approach, Phillips and his men seem very well trained in maneuvering the boat left and right, and speeding up to create high waves for the approaching ships. When the boats near the freighter, a series of hoses shoot water all around the perimeter of the vessel to make boarding the boat that much more difficult. All of this, unfortunately, covers the fact that these freighters contain no weapons or trained guards in order to combat these types of threats. It is all up to a resilient captain and his crew to save their own necks.
The pirates do board the boat, and Phillips and his men engage in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse, as Phillips tries to outsmart the pirates at every turn. Just when you think that you may have accidentally walked into Under Seige 3 starring Hanks in place of Steven Seagal, the film takes a turn.
It's this middle portion of the film that I had the most trouble with. When Phillips is captured by the pirates, they jettison off in a powered life boat and I'm not sure why. Weren't the pirates wanting the ship?
Once the military finally responds to the crisis, the film ramps up and the last half hour is quite breath-taking. Again, you'll be astonished by the procedures that the military go through in order to safely rescue Captain Phillips.
Rated PG-13, this movie is more about "feel" and less about blood, guts and gore. It's an edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride, with even higher stakes than usual because we know that these events really happened (or at least mostly happened).
But the touches of humanity - the back-story and screen time given to Muse and his pirate crew, the interchange between Phillips and his men (union men who reject the idea of fighting the pirates...they just don't get paid enough to do so), and especially the last few scenes where we see the aftermath and the toll that has been taken following this horrific event. Other movies simply interested in action and suspense would have ended five minutes sooner. But it's that final five minutes that makes the whole experience worth it...and solidifies Tom Hanks as a serious contender for this year's upcoming crop of awards. They'd be well-deserved.
Run Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Michael Chernus, Catherine Keener, Yul Vazquez
Directed by Paul Greengrass (Green Zone, The Bourne Supremacy, United 93)
Opens locally on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time