Captain Phillips is the harrowing true story of one man’s capture by Somali pirates. The captain boards the Maersk Alabama in April 2009 for a seemingly routine journey to Mombasa, Kenya to deliver aid in the form of food and water. He understands the dangers of travelling so near the Somali basin and the first thing he does is run an unannounced security drill. The mock situation becomes all too real when their radar and he, through binoculars, pick up the 2 approaching skiffs and its motley crew.
Realising just how isolated they are as a cargo ship, he tells his First Mate Shane (Michael Chernus) to call the US Maritime Emergency where no one answers. They redial the UK equivalent who nonchalantly take down their co-ordinates and suggest that they’re probably just fishermen. Phillips (Tom Hanks) emphatically declares, “They’re not here to fish.”
The fear you sense and see from the eponymous captain and his crew is palpable, and that’s because British director Paul Greengrass decided that the first time Phillips meets the pirates would also be Hank’s initial encounter. “It was a very smart move on Paul’s part,” says Hanks, “because we literally went through the same thing the real crew went through. I can tell you it raised the hair on the back of all our necks. We were truly petrified.”
Greengrass, in a welcome return to his niche, crafts a masterful tale of the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years and a natural way of life for some Somalians (the distinction is necessary). He doesn’t have a long time to give a well-rounded view of the pirates’ plight, but with one powerful yet subtle opening scene in Eyl, he at least attempts to not paint all Somalians as terrorists and kidnappers. On a tangent, I enjoyed Max Martini’s turn as the tactically ruthless SEAL Commander – there are some actors you enjoy watching and he’s in all my favourite TV shows. Captain Phillips is not as clear cut as good versus evil, there are nuances and angles to consider that Greengrass captures brilliantly with his trademark handheld camera style. An amazing score by Hillingdon-born Henry Jackman serves to heighten the tension. With parallels to be drawn to his United 93, Greengrass manages to crowd please, make us feel compassion for the pirates and raise our blood pressure in one fell swoop.
Going into this movie, I’d heard various things about Tom Hanks and how this is some of his best work. That’s a tall order considering some of his incredible past roles. His acting WAS great, but pretty par for the course, until the notable moment things go up a notch that will linger with you long after you’ve left the cinema. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it and it may grab the attention of the Oscar nomination board. However, limousine chauffeur and first-time actor Barkhad Abdi, as the pirates’ unflinching leader Muse, steals the movie with an ad-libbed line, “Look at me. I’m the captain now.” For someone as charismatic and seasoned as Hanks, a strong lead was needed and boy did they find him. He’s a natural who exceptionally symbolises the desperation of what he needs to do survive and the dogged determination to succeed. I was moved to tears by Muse’s declaration of, “I’ve come too far. I can’t give up. No.”
Captain Phillips is a nerve-shredding voyage, a visceral juxtaposition of the often ignored effects of globalisation and a must see. I don’t think I took a breath in the last 40 minutes.
Do you agree? A boring seasick journey or Oscar worthy? Your turn on the soapbox in 3, 2, 1.