The story of Captain Richard Phillips’ traumatic ordeal is already a fascinating one. What makes the film adaptation so appealing is the exceptional performances, led by veteran actor Tom Hanks. “Captain Phillips” contains all the suspense and excitement one would expect from such a harrowing tale of survival and courage, but sets itself apart with a studious character analysis heightened by rousing turns from each performer. Though the thrilling action is never far away, director Paul Greengrass wisely chooses to focus on the people involved, steadily building excitement from surmounting dangers befalling relatable and carefully crafted personas.
What begins as a routine transport mission for the crew of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama quickly escalates into a desperate bid for survival when Somali pirates attack the vessel. After receiving notification of pirate activity along the Somali coast, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) prepares his men by running drills and increasing security. When a skiff with four armed gunmen closes in on the Alabama, Phillips and his crew are initially able to keep their assailants at bay, but soon they must prepare for the worst as the pirates finally manage to board the ship. While Phillips attempts to outwit his captors and keep his crew hidden in the engine room, his men work to shut down the ship’s functions and foil the hijacking. But as the pirates rapidly lose patience with their prisoner’s games, their intrepid leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) makes a critical decision that will change the fates of all involved forever.
It will be difficult for audiences to avoid comparisons to last year’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” considering “Captain Phillips” excels in the same areas: chilling adventure, political conflict, and a daring military operation. Similar too are the steady, lengthily sustained anticipation, attention to details, and breathtaking performances. Tom Hanks once again exhibits a depth and range that transcends the frenzied, action-oriented materials that director Greengrass repeatedly frequents (though the addition of an accent only draws attention to Hanks acting the part instead of inhabiting it, mistakenly assuming the distracting technique would add necessary realism). The supporting roles of the Somali hijackers are also incredibly convincing, adding handsomely to the nail-biting suspense.
Lurking somewhere in the id is the nagging questioning of the premise. It’s infuriating to see the escalation of the events, seemingly magnified through a single, simple folly – the lack of a gun. The setting is 2009, which is entirely too recent to permit such an oversight. And yet the recognition of the issue depends completely on forgiving or ignoring the circumstances of unpreparedness. Desperation and savagery, even when merged with disorganization and disorientation, instantly outpaces the vulnerable. Extreme close-ups, excessive camera movements, and small talk at the start can’t detract from swift foreboding as soon as Phillips boards his ship. The music by Henry Jackman also warns of the coming ordeals, summoning anxiety even when nothing extraordinary is taking place. While it contains a boat and pirates, “Captain Phillips” is no ordinary high-seas adventure – it’s an exhilarating ride with its own brand of swashbuckling furor.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)