Tom Hanks delivers one of the finest performances of his career in Captain Phillips, the true story of an American mariner who was kidnapped by Somali pirates.
Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is introduced in a poignant scene set on the roads of the northeast. The captain discusses his next job with his wife (Catherine Keener), and there is eerie sense of dread in their conversation. Phillips is methodical and we learn that he is a great organizational mind early on.
The skipper arrives in Kenya on the Maersk Alabama and has the crew take him through various procedures. After reading an e-mail about the possibility of a pirate raid, the captain conducts a series of precautionary tests and preps his crew. Hanks is brilliant by conveying the quiet confidence of the character but also the small insecurities. It’s not long before two small vessels are spotted on the radar, including one that is headed directly toward the Maersk Alabama. There is one small problem though: commercial ships don’t carry any weapons.
Director Paul Greengrass succeeds with Captain Phillips by putting the viewer on the ship and depicting the horror of a pirate hijacking. Despite the early appearance by Catherine Keener, the rest of the cast consists of relatively unknown actors (and people from the real ship), which adds to the realism of the experience. The close-up shots and tight physical settings convey the sense of being alone not only out on the open sea, but on the ship itself.
The controlled performance of Tom Hanks is the driving force behind Captain Phillips. The actor could have easily lost the audience with a overly macho persona, but instead the captain is portrayed as a methodical and intellectual man. Phillips carefully calculates the possible outcomes in his mind as the situation gets worse.
The human drama of Captain Phillips is highlighted by the obscurity of the main actors. We learn the backstory of the lead pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdhi), and how he put his crew together. One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is the unique personalities of each kidnapper. Muse is clearly the leader, Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman) is a teenager who can’t seem to comprehend what’s happening (especially after cutting up his foot), and Najee (Faysal Ahmed) is the instable pirate who could shoot up the crew at any moment. They all have a fondness for American culture, which makes for a few hilarious scenes on the hijacked ship. Director Paul Greengrass allows the audience to experience a small amount of sympathy for the pirates in Captain Phillips, especially for the leader Muse who is unwilling to back down from any problem.
Captain Phillips is a must-see simply for the unforgettable performance of Tom Hanks. The actor doesn’t have any memorable monologues about the perils of the sea, and he doesn’t need to. It’s all in his face. The expressions become more and more pronounced as the likelihood of survival decreases, and there is one particular scene that could be the best single performance of the actor’s career.
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