Tom Hanks has always had a knack for making us immediately identify with his characters. He’s that “Every Man” who shows us that the the most ordinary person can do extraordinary things when challenged – whether it’s finding one G.I. in war-ravaged Europe, landing a broken space shuttle, or surviving on a deserted island. Yet again, Hanks nails it with Captain Phillips. Prepare to see another classic added to his superior repertoire.
Captain Phillips (CP) is the based-in-fact story of events that occurred in 2009 to the real Richard Phillips while he was captaining a cargo ship loaded with food aid from Oman to Kenya. His ship is spotted by Somali pirates, and so begins the terrifying and tense moments captured in chilling realism through 90% of the film.
The counterpart to Captain Phillips is the Samoli pirate captain Muse. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, Borne Supremacy) isn’t known for having easy villains in his films. He matches the two very different captains on every level. He shows the similarities between the men who’ve crossed paths (thanks to globalization), while simultaneously attempting to imbibe sympathy for the pirate and his circumstances. This is especially evident in the only scene in CP not shown from Captain Phillip’s perspective. Early in the film, Greengrass shows us the world of Muse and his village; they are terrorized by a Somali warlord who continually forces them into piracy and takes nearly all the money for himself. While Greengrass makes a strong case for audience sympathy, the actors portraying the pirates (Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed) are excellent at being desperate, violent raiders hopped up on Khat, and their performances negate most of his efforts. After all, it’s hard to sympathize with people who abuse, murder, and terrorize others for profit.
CP has a realism that can’t be found by using sets, sound stages, and computer graphics. Greengrass shot the entire movie on real ships out at sea, hiring in other boats, Naval ships, and helicopters to boot. The vastness of the ocean in the shots are real, the claustrophobia of the tiny lifeboats is real. These elements make you feel as if you are on the ship, in the water, and hiding in the dark with the characters.
As the lead, Tom Hanks does an amazing job portraying the captain. You feel as though you know him after the first few scenes. His ability to show his inner torment while being interrogated and the utter terror laying behind his eyes while threatened with death are truly astounding. You can see every nuanced glance and feel the stress as he bluffs his way out of tight spots. At the end of the film, Hanks delivers the most emotional, heart-stopping performance I have ever seen.
Captain Phillips is one of those films that will make you cry, clap, and even laugh. Most of all, you will be on the edge of your seat every moment. Even those who know how the story ends, this masterful film makes you forget it all and turns the intense tale into a reality – one you will never forget. Prepare to see this one up for many awards this year.