Captain Phillips

Directed By: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, and Barkhad Abdi

The fall movie season undoubtedly had a rocky start.  We had a rough first few weeks with duds like Getaway, Riddick, and The Family.  With movies like these, I was beginning to get a little disillusioned with Hollywood.  Once the awards contenders began landing at the box office in rapid succession, however, things kicked into gear.  Over the last several weeks, we've had great films like Prisoners, Gravity, and Rush.  This run of quality movies continues this week with Paul Greengrass's Captain Phillips, a taut thriller based on the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama back in 2009.  With the successive releases of so many strong films, I have to wonder if what's left for November and December is better than what we've already seen.

New Englander Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is captain of the Maersk Alabama, a merchant vessel.  He's leading his crew on a trip to the city of Mombasa to deliver aid for countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Somalia.  Ironically, they are delivering this aid by sailing down the Arabian Sea just 240 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia where the danger of piracy looms.  Cognizant of the fact that pirates sail these waters, Captain Phillips begins the expedition by ordering several emergency drills to prepare for the worst in the event that it happens.  When two skiffs appear on the radar headed straight for the Maersk Alabama, Phillips sees that the drills weren't for naught.  Somali pirates are coming.

Phillips and his crew try to outrun these pirates.  Using flares, hoses, and some evasive maneuvers, they manage to keep the pirates at bay for a day or so.  At the end of the day, the crew of this merchant vessel aren't bearing arms, but the pirates are.  Led by a young Somali named Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the pirates do eventually board the ship and head straight for the captain’s deck.  At the same time, the bulk of the crew go and hide in the engine room at the bottom of the ship.  When Muse and his friends find the captain, they make it clear to Phillips that they're there on business.  The captain offers them $30,000 with the caveat that they leave him and his crew unharmed.  However, these "fishermen" came to fish for millions.  Before they find their riches though, they need to find the crew to actually operate this ship.  With the captain as their guide, these pirates begin searching the Maersk Alabama from top to bottom.

With Captain Phillips, director Paul Greengrass gives us a tense adaptation of the real nightmare that was the first hijacking of an American ship since the 19th century.  Greengrass crafts this relentlessly intense thriller fueled by an ever-growing sense of imminent danger emanating from our beloved captain.  He does so by making good use of the film's eerie, isolated setting in the middle of the sea.  With a thunderous score and dark, gritty cinematography, Greengrass continuously ratchets up the suspense in route to an electrifying conclusion.  Known for his outstanding work in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, Greengrass once again rises to the occasion in Captain Phillips with a film that's stylistically reminiscent of the good times we had with rogue CIA operative Jason Bourne. 

Every year, an actor whom we consider the best of the best steps out and reminds us why we have nothing but respect for that person.  Last year, I'd argue that individual was Denzel Washington with his outstanding performance in Flight.  This year, this man is surely Tom Hanks.  As the heroic captain, Hanks delivers one unforgettable performance.  He brilliantly conveys the fright and mental anguish that the real captain must have been enduring in the midst of this horrific situation.  At the same time, Hanks gives us this courageous everyday American who will do whatever he must to protect his fellow crew members and even help the men who have taken him hostage.  Embodying a wide array of emotions and exploring the unique psychology that underpins hostage crises, Hanks knocks it out of the park as the brave, crafty captain.  This is what Hanks looks like at the top of his game.

As much as I enjoyed Hanks' virtuoso performance, Captain Phillips is not a one man show.  In order for Hanks to thoroughly delve into the fascinating psychology of hostage situations, he needs a sparring partner on screen.  He needs a captor.  In the film, Barkhad Abdi gives him that captor, the sinister yet conflicted Somali pirate Muse.  Abdi gives a chilling yet intriguing performance as the lead pirate.  He's a ruthless menace chasing a fantasy of riches.  At the same time, this captor has a conscience and realizes the perils of the conundrum in which he lands himself by taking Phillips hostage on the Alabama lifeboat.  All in all, Abdi gives one hell of a performance to be able to stand tall on screen with the likes of Hanks.

Captain Phillips is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that will reel you in and never let go.  Delivering nonstop thrills and gripping cinema at its best, Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks, and Barkhad Abdi are firing on all cylinders.  They've put together one really intriguing film where everyone involved brings out their best.  Captain Phillips gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.