Some biopics tend to skew the facts between what’s real and what’s fiction, giving an unrealistic approach to the subject. But this is one that didn’t feel like it was exaggerated, had any added details, or characters to make up for something lacking in the film. It proves that the real life account is just as thrilling, exciting and dangerous than anything made up on screen. It also helps that the entire ordeal was documented on live TV, and the captain Rich Phillips wrote a book that covered his horrifying situation, which ended up being used as the source material. I think it’s important that stories like these are being made, captivating the world and showing the resolve of human beings in real situations. This was a story that begged to be put on screen, and it ended up being one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in a long while.
Tom Hanks proves once again why he is one of the best actors ever. His portrayal as Captain Richard Phillips is so diverse but never straying away from doing whatever it takes to survive. He exudes such a wide array of emotions from his mental palette, showing confidence, fear, determination and a steel resolve that it couldn’t have felt more real. While trapped in the lifeboat with the hijackers, does Phillips show his kind nature and concern toward his captors? Not all of them but one action spoke wonders to me for his character. It’s genuine and from the heart as he is shown to understand their plight. With each question that may or may not get under the pirates skin, resulting in a punch, he is asking general questions about what they plan to do and why they are doing it. There isn’t a feeling of camaraderie, but a slight feeling that he really feels bad for them. One he feels bad for more than the rest. It comes off naturally from Tom Hanks like putting on a glove. When he is fearful or scared, you are legitimately terrified with him, hoping he gets out okay, which he clearly does in the end. Tom Hanks is at his best when he portrays down-to-earth regular characters. He hardly goes off the handle or strays away from reality. And even when he does, with his ’80s comedies, it doesn’t feel forced or fake. He has a natural way of going serious or comedic in roles.
The rest of the cast isn’t that well-known, not that they didn’t perform well. But the focus was clearly pointed at the Somalian pirates. The cast who played the pirates, mainly the four who kidnapped Captain Phillips, did exceptionally well. But it was the performance of Barkhad Abdi as Muse the de facto leader of the small crew who shed another light on the hardships of Somalian life. Each one portrayed a different attitude and outlook toward the increasingly bad situation they found themselves in. It looked like attitudes you would generally find if one was to be a Somalian pirate. That realism helped to portray them in anything but a black and white scale. They weren’t portrayed as evil, twisted, bad guys but desperate, hungry, willing people born and bred into a horrible situation. Not that they shouldn’t be tried to the fullest extent of the law, but to whitewash them into one generalized group is ignorant. Even though they do horrible things, there are moments with certain characters that make you feel for them and pity them. They show a human portrayal that doesn’t seem forced or pandering to your feelings. There isn’t a woe-is-me feeling toward any of the characters but men who have more or less accepted their occupations as raiders of the sea. They all portray an individual role, but together are a fully developed mindset in a brief glimpse in Somalian pirate life.
Director Paul Greengrass is a true master of realistic, taut thrillers with human characters. His previous work on the Jason Bourne films and United 93 refrain from the usual, boring action tropes that are still used today. He makes his movies the most realistic way possible without sacrificing character or story. With Captain Phillips you aren’t bludgeoned with useless action or asking why someone did that. It goes by so quickly, that you’re as exhausted as everyone is on screen. Greengrass puts you through the emotional ringer refusing to let up. The shaky cam for which he is known for is hardly even an issue here. It’s hardly noticeable but any shaky cam method would be expected when you’re on a boat. Plus it helps with showing the erratic emotions of the characters. That style for the most part never really bothered me anyway.
From all the media coverage, headlines, interviews etc., you had a literal framework for a movie. The Somalian hostage crisis has more than enough drama, action, and character than most original movies would dream of having. It has a nice pacing that evenly splits up the tense moments with the dramatic. It doesn’t feel slowed down or bore you and everything works perfectly to get that heightened emotion out of you. Waiting for the action to start is just as exhilarating as watching it unfold. Much of the movie was exciting but the end provided the biggest thrills as you would expect. It reached a fever pitch of drama with blended emotions with you on the edge of your seat, then just like that it’s over and you’re glad it is. The hijack was also directed with great thrills. It’s terrifying to see the crew who’ve never seen anything like this before act out so bravely and defend themselves. It’s so easy to get lost in this film that you want the crew to be ok. Seeing Captain Phillips outwit and attempt to outwit his captors was a pleasing experience. The decisions made sense logically and hopefully what any ship captain under high duress would do. A captain should think on his toes while trying to protect his crew and he does so with gusto here.
The opening lines from Tom Hanks set a huge precedent for the rest of the film that initially doesn’t sound like it would mean much. But you eventually see why that scene was there and it’s one of those little things that make the movie that much better. The screenplay was very well written, most of the time allowing the action to speak for itself. Another scene with Tom Hanks is one that should propel him to his fourth best actor Oscar nomination and third Oscar overall. I don’t want to give it away, but it was so moving, powerful, real and shocking that it made me cry. It was something I didn’t expect as I watched Tom Hanks and his emotions slowly change. It was as powerful and moving as any scene of the highest dramatic order. Frankly it made the movie and would have felt incomplete without it. It made it that much more realistic and showed me something I have never seen in a movie before. Only Tom Hanks could have emoted something so moving like it was actually happening to him.
Captain Phillips was unsurprisingly captivating, frightening, and thrilling. I got exactly what I wanted and a whole lot more. I hope to see this film get the box office and audience recognition it deserves along with some rightfully deserved awards. It’s refreshing to see an actual hero with real problems in a major motion picture in a year full of imagined heroes. Captain Phillips has no powers but a resolve to do whatever it takes to protect his crew and ship. The hijackers aren’t villains with a diabolical plan but desperate, poor men with no other option than aquatic crime. The heroes aren’t alive on paper or on screen but alive right in front of us. Captain Phillips shows the hard decisions we must all make when being given impossibly difficult options. And that everyone is capable of doing something heroic.
Five container ships out of five.