Pirates have always captured the imaginations of people around the world. Even in the last decade we’ve had the mega-hit franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, engage people in theaters all over. This probably leads to the reason why we automatically think of rum drinking swashbucklers whenever we hear the word pirate. In reality, pirates still exist in the world today, whether they are online users who upload a TV show they recorded or poor Somalis driven by vicious warlords to come up with money through hijacking passing ships. It’s the latter that is the subject matter of a film released just recently. A few years ago a story made national headlines in which Somali pirates took an American captain of an American-owned cargo vessel captive. With Captain Phillips, United 93 director Paul Greengrass gives us his account of that event. While some have already come out of the woodwork to claim just how inaccurate this film it is, it really doesn’t matter because Captain Phillips is an intense thriller filled with strong performances.
Captain Phillips recounts the events of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking through the point of view of Captain Richard Phillips (who is played by Academy Award winner Tom Hanks in the film). The film is directed by Paul Greengrass and is written by Billy Ray (State of Play and The Hunger Games).
Due to its similar style and its presence in the awards season, this film will receive a lot of comparisons to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. That will probably be a disservice to Captain Phillips as it doesn’t have the lofty ambitions that Bigelow’s film had. That being said Paul Greengrass crafts an engaging film. The intensity that Greengrass brought to his Bourne installments is present here, and Greengrass also once again turns a small set (this time a closed-in escape vessel instead of the plane in United 93) into a disturbing yet captivating piece of the film. Most of what is on display in this film is something that we have seen before from Greengrass, but this film is also a combination of all of Greengrass’ best parts. It was also nice to see Billy Ray’s script turn the antagonistic pirates into fully fleshed characters.
The entire cast is also really strong. Tom Hanks delivers his best performance since Cast Away as he takes complete command of the screen throughout the film’s entire duration. However, it’s within the last ten minutes that Hanks performance reaches the next level with a scene that involves a lot of acting on Hanks’ part but really strikes home as being realistic. The other performance that will have everyone talking is that of Barkhad Abdi as the head pirate. It was nice to see a film actually cast an actor from the actual ethnicity of the real life performance. Hopefully, Abdi’s performance convinces people to do this more often, and it very well could because Abdi is asked to be almost as much of a lead as Hanks and he steps up to that task with such natural precision.
Captain Phillips may not be the most memorable film of its genre but it gets by on Paul Greengrass’ direction and memorable performances from Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi.