Director Paul Greengrass delivers an intensely made drama with an anchored performance by Tom Hanks that might just earn him an Oscar nomination with Captain Phillips. The film’s real-life roots help make for a film that touches up on some real-world problems, while also reminding us yet again why Greengrass is one of the better directors working in the field when it comes to drama with real high stakes and tension. Captain Phillips isn’t Greengrass’ most accessible film, but it’s something that deserves to be seen and discussed.
Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is a seasoned Captain of the seas. He’s been working in the field for most of his life and on one particular day in 2009 he sets sail for what he thought was just another ordinary day. Little did he know that his ship would be boarded and taken over by Somali pirates, making history as the first American cargo ship hijacking in over two hundred years.
Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone, United 93) brings his usual methods of telling gritty and realistic stories with a unique visual eye that’s always grounded in the real-life drama and tension. Captain Phillips employs Greengrass’ shaky/always unmounted camera methods and it does so flawlessly, always adding an extra touch of realism to each and every scene.
Greengrass knows how to heighten tension and escalate scenes quickly and Captain Phillips is another shining example of how to make a film that’s so gripping and tense, yet pretty basic in structure. There’s not much going on in Captain Phillips, yet there’s always something happening.
He does this by making great use of his performers and always keeping things tight and fluid. Captain Phillips drags its feet here and there, but there rarely feels like a wasted minute. There are a few scenes that don’t come off as important, but Greengrass had to wisely pick and choose just how much to reveal in order to capture the human emotion of the real-life story.
The real-life story is a remarkable one and Greengrass and his crew do a fine job adapting the material and turning into something that’s motivational, while also horrifying and all too real.
Captain Phillips sheds some much-needed light on the world around us and does a great job telling a story that doesn’t just have good guys and bad guys. These are just people faced with decisions and sometimes these decisions can lead to bad outcomes. Greengrass doesn’t forget to remind us that these are all human beings trying to survive.
Too often do dramas like this paint simple patriotic pictures, yet Captain Phillips remains mostly undecided with which side it picks. Sure, there’s no denying the pirates and what they did, but Greengrass keeps a good amount of footage surrounded on the actual pirates themselves and how the situation arose.
He also tells Phillips’ story with intensity that can only be matched by Tom Hanks‘ performance. Honestly, the film’s opening didn’t have me sold on Hanks and all of the Oscar buzz surrounding his role, but by the end of the film there was definitely a lot left to chew on. Hanks hasn’t done this kind of work in a long time and it’s great seeing him really sink his teeth into a role with so much emotion and care.
Hanks does a great job keeping Phillips grounded. Phillips isn’t a perfect Captain and Hanks understands that when conveying his orders in earlier scenes, yet he reveals Phillips’ bravery and kindness towards his crew and those around him when the clock strikes and the film’s scenario starts to unfold with rapid movement.
Another impressive highlight is newcomer Barkhad Abdi. Abdi plays the leading pirate Muse. How Abdi handles himself on screen is nothing short of amazing and in my mind a performance that outshines Hanks. Here, Abdi manages to give Muse an entire back story and reason for the things that he’s doing and he also does it in a way that shows us the more complicated side of the story. He’s still going to be deemed the film’s “bad guy”, but at least Abdi (and the writers of the film) were able to give Muse some heart and enough characteristics to make for someone that’s not all bad and actually just as conflicted as Hanks’ Phillips.
Captain Phillips is a film that I can respect on many levels, because Greengrass is one of the few that knows how to deliver realistic high-stakes drama with political ties. Also, Hanks and Abdi elevate the performances and give us two people that absolutely spark when on screen together. But the film runs a little long and emphasizes a few too many similar scenes, more specifically when the backup arrives to help get Phillips out of the lifeboat.
I understand that this is all just detailing and making sure that the entire story, tiny bits and all, gets told, but there’s a sense of brief repetitiveness that comes out and the film’s over two hours running time does take a toll on you by the end. Luckily, Hanks lets it all out during the final minutes and leaves a big enough emotional impact to have you shaking for a few minutes after things go dark.
Captain Phillips – 8/10