It takes a lot to make me write a review for a movie. Not because I do not take the pains to dissect it; purely because I'm inherently lazy. But not this time. This movie deserves every bit of the praise. Captain Phillips is an incredible dramatisation attempt by director Paul Greengrass (of the Bourne Series, Greenzone & United 93 fame) to recreate the "true" story of how the American cargo ship "The Maersk Alabama" was hijacked by Somali pirates back in 2009. With two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks in the titular role and a screenplay-to-act-for by Billy Ray (of The Hunger Games, State of Play, Shattered Glass fame), the movie should definitely be on any hard core movie buff's to-watch list!
As it is based on a true story, the plot itself is quite predictable. To put it briefly, it's about four young Somali pirates hijacking the behemoth of an American cargo ship, in the hope of making some money by holding them ransom. However it takes an immensely talented director to be able to keep us on the edge of our seats, with a story we know the ending to. Nevertheless, the director Paul Greengrass managed to do it with United 93, and has successfully done it with Captain Phillips too.
The plot itself has multiple layers, and people like me, who have a tendency to over-analyse will find much to feed our brains. Though in a nutshell, it is a heroic survival tale against all odds, the plot also touches on a number of different issues from the plight of the fishermen in Somalia who have resorted to being pirate-raiders for the manipulative ring leaders to how globalisation has left as much as fifty people competing for one job.
Tom Hanks, as Captain Richard Phillips, lives and breathes the role of the eponymous merchant mariner to the letter. He sails effortlessly through every scene, be it the reserved and methodical Captain Phillips that we see at the beginning of the movie, or the sleep, water and food-depraved traumatic Phillips being held captive by the Somali pirates. Though he is splendid throughout, the last five minutes of the movie is when he truly delivers the performance worthy of another Academy Award®. You've got to 'see it to "feel" it'!
However it's not all the Tom Hanks show. He is matched step-for-step and act-by-act by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, whose electrifying performance of the pirate leader Abduwali Muse, has already gathered rave reviews. Perhaps the most enthralling scene the two of them have together is when Muse, after boarding the ship, looks dead-eye straight at Phillips and says "Look me in the eye – I'm the Captain now!". As the ringleader Muse, Abdi portrays the perfect eclectic mix of intense determination and sheer desperation of someone who has gone way too far to turn back and has no other way out.
With a run time of 134 minutes, the movie starts off a tad slow, but soon has us gripped-by-our-throats with the suspense and tension. Greengrass makes good use of every available tool at his disposal, and be it the claustrophobic scene inside the "being-constantly-tossed-by-the-sea" lifeboat or the "unabated negotiations" between the US Navy and the pirates, he executes them with panache. Technically, the movie is exceptionally crafted and we find ourselves "virtually" present for every scene. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd is exceptional and the riveting background music by Henry Jackman adds to the overall mood.
As i said earlier, it takes a true genius to wring suspense from a screenplay that you know the end to. And once again, Paul Greengrass has done just that.
My final verdict: A pulsating survival story of the captain of an American cargo ship kidnapped by Somali pirates, executed brilliantly by Director Paul Greengrass and Academy-Award-worthy acting by Tom Hanks and debutante Barkhad Abdi.
P.S. I've not provided a detailed scene-by-scene description of the storyline on purpose. At the end of the day, it's a thriller, and though the story in its entireity is available on the public domain, I'm of the opinion that its best if we just know the synopsis and "relive" the movie, as the director and actors meant for us to.
Watch the YouTube trailer here for Captain Phillips by Sony Pictures: