Paul Greengrass presents an enthralling, multi-layered depiction of the 2009 real-life hijacking of U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama with typical visual flair & terrific performances from Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi…
Paul Greengrass has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to take authentic stories and tell them in a way that’s dramatically engaging and very populist, so that everyone can watch and understand them, yet he never feels the need to reduce it to simplicity or caricature proceedings. He is also someone who believes that complex stories can be told in a way that is thoroughly understandable for mainstream audiences. The film is a thriller, and throughout, your hands will be gripped to your seat. When it ends, you understandly feel the need to have a stiff drink because in that real Paul Greengrass way, it puts you right there in the turmoil. It’s helped, of course, by Barry Ackroyd’s immersive cinematography, while the film also takes a step back to nuance its narrative and muddy the line between hero and villain.
Tom Hanks gives the performance of a lifetime, progressing from everyman to survivor. He goes through an awful lot during the film and Hanks has managed to create what is an emotionally invested central performance. Equally brilliant is Barkhad Abdi, the emergent leader of the Somali pirates as he manages masterfully to hold his own against Hanks, the most-seasoned and versatile of Hollywood’s actors, and all in just his debut role. This film needed to have an equal and opposite balance with, at the centre of the film, a culture clash between two captains battling for control. In fact, both are in fact pawns in a much wider game over of which neither of them is in control. Apparently, Greengrass had kept Hanks and Abdi apart so that when filming the scene where the pirates take control, that was when the two main actors met for the first time, and that works brilliantly, because when we get to the moment where Abdi sets eyes on Tom Hanks and declares that he’s the captain now, you are just transfixed by his presence.
By the time you come out of Captain Phillips, you are completely drained and speechless. It takes a true story and tells it in a way that is honest and truthful to the facts, that is understandable but open to the wider issues of the story. Yet it also remembers that this is a piece of narrative cinema, a thriller that needs to charge along and grip you in a way that you’re emotionally and viscerally moved. Captain Phillips achieves all of that, and you come out of it demanding a stiff drink to consume after being chewed up by the film’s power.