Captain Phillips

<em>Captain Phillips</em>

On April 8, 2009, four individuals from Somalia boarded the cargo vessel Maersk Alabama, marking the first time a U.S.-flagged vessel became subject to an act of piracy in a century. Over the next four days, the drama of the capture played out in real-time for American audiences, as the pirates abandoned the ship aboard its lifeboat with its captain, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), as hostage, attempting to make for the coast of Africa before they were waylaid by the U.S. Navy.

I won’t say more, though if you don’t already know how this event — which happened just four years ago — concluded, then you really should read a newspaper more often.

What I will say is that the unavoidable dramatization of this seemingly made-for-Hollywood story is one of the best thrillers we’ve gotten so far this year, filled with a pair of strong performances and making important points about the disparity in quality of life between the richest and poorest on Earth with subtlety and poise. In other words, it’s the complete opposite of director Paul Greengrass‘s last film.

What is not so different from his other moves in this direction, such as Green Zone and United 93, is Greengrass’s desire to replay (or at least appear to replay) the events of Alabama’s hijacking as realistically as possible, drawing us in with the promise that we are in fact watching something “real.” The result is a strangeness in pace as the film lurches about in tone, from day-in-the-life procedural to edge-of-your-seat thriller, and as Greengrass and writer Billy Ray exchange adrenaline for versimillitude. Fully the first third of the film follows the very different, very routine events and decisions that draw Phillips and pirate leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) to the point in the Indian Ocean where their lives will cross.

Greengrass’s ultimate purpose behind all of this is to put on the table how different the First and Third Worlds are from one another, to the point of being nearly unable to comprehend each other, despite being human beings living on the same planet together. On the one hand, we have Hanks’s staunchly middle-class Phillips, a man with an existence that is comfortable but one which still requires hard work and is full of worries about himself and his children and is certainly not a life of endless luxury free from want. Hanks himself is back in compelling form, the steady hand which keeps all the different parts of Captain Phillips together, feeling as if they are all of a whole, no matter how far from his kitchen in Vermont the story flows.

He is equally matched and frequently bested, however, by Abdi, who is simultaneously menacing and pathetic as the leader of the pirate band who feel they have no choice but to do as they are doing, without actually understanding what it is they are doing. Even as they are taking over the bridge of the Alabama, Muse lives under a delusion of someday going to America himself and partaking in the riches which must be there. Riches which he cannot understand are not being carted around by a U.S.-flagged ship like the Alabama.

His life is one of such want (free of, among other things, running water and electricity) that he has created an illusion of what existence at the top of the food chain must be like, and anything which threatens that illusion — like a U.S. warship showing up in the night — turns this gregarious, talkative man into a killer easily able to stove a man’s head in with a wrench. It’s a fantastic turn, and the interplay between Abdi and Hanks is the fuel which drives Captain Phillips.

Well, that and the recreation of the Navy’s rescue attempt, played out in its final moments in a nearly real-time recreation reminiscent of last year’s Zero Dark Thirty. And if the pacing is not exactly standard (and more of rationale on why Hollywood doesn’t do it this way than it might like to be), the real-life course of events provides the filmmakers with the kind of slam-bang climax most directors would kill for.

A genuine win, sporting a reminder of why Hanks has the career he does and introducing us to a exciting new talent in the process.

Cast: Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips; Barkhad Abdi as Muse; Barkhad Abirahman as Bilal; Faysal Ahmed as Najee; Mahat M. Ali as Elmi; Michael Chernus as Shane Murphy; David Warshofsky as Mike Perry; Corey Johnson as Ken Quinn; Chris Mulkey as John Cronan; Yul Vazques as Captain Frank Castellano; Max Martini as Navy SEAL Commander; Omar Berdouni as Nemo; Catherine Keener as Andrea Phillips.

(Columbia Pictures --; Trigger Street Productions --; Michael De Luca Productions; Scott Rudin Productions; Captain Phillips --; Captain Phillips (Facebook) --; Captain Phillips (Twitter) --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, October 30th, 2013. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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