We've all seen the trailers for the new movie Captain Phillips. But Captain Phillips is so much more than a film about a hijacked ship.
It is also the story of man who is responsible not just for his ship, but also for the lives of his crew members. It is a story of survival, action, adventure, and human emotion, as well as a close look at a man who faces uncertainty.
In an Academy Award-worthy performance in a film based on the book by the real Captain Richard Phillips, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals, and Dangerous Days at Sea, Tom Hanks plays Richard Phillips. He's a family man from America's Northeast who does not have a typical office job; his job is to captain ships that carry cargo through friendly, and sometimes not-so-friendly waters.
The story takes place in March 2009, and Phillips is captaining the MV Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship that is travelling to Moombasa, Kenya via the Arabian Sea, and past the east coast of the Somali coastline in international waters. Once the Maersk Alabaman reaches those waters, Phillips and his captain, Shane Murphy (Michael Chernus), notice two objects quickly approaching their ship. They know immediately that these two boats are not a welcoming committee, and they know, from information provided to them by the U.S. government, that on these boats are Somali pirates.
To try to thwart them, Phillips makes a false announcement on the radio that they can hear. One of the boats turns around, but one continues speeding straight ahead towards them. Luckily for Phillips and his crew, this second boat eventually turns around and disappears off their radar. However, later in the day, a single boat is detected on their radar, again heading straight for them. This boat eventually gets to within meters of the Alabama, with four Somalis on board, who start shooting at the captain and his crew. Trying to stave them off, Phillips orders the water cannons to be turned on as a deterrent from them getting on board. One of the water cannons fails, so Murphy attempts to fix it, but is unable to, and the four Somali pirates use a ladder to get on the boat, rifles in hand, demanding money.
Not content with the $30,000 Phillips has onboard to offer them, the situation becomes tense and violent. Phillips tries to outsmart them, while trying to keep the whereabout of the rest of his crew unknown to the pirates. The pirates, headed by Bilal (in a scary and amazing performance by newcomer Barkhad Abdirahman), are very aggressive and don't want the hijacking to get out of hand, so they want to find the rest of the crew, who are hiding in the ship's engine room. The movie gets more dramatic and tense as things go very wrong and Captain Phillips is taken hostage aboard the Somali's boat. From this point Captain Phillips accelerates its action, intensifies the drama, and shows the pain that Captain Phillips has while he struggles and tries to reason with his captors, all the while being in a very cramped space in the small boat. He senses deep down that this may be the very last time he will be on the water. He is convinced his captors are going to kill him.
Paul Greengrass, who directed United 93, Green Zone and The Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy, certainly knows his way around an action film. However, in Captain Phillips, unlike in his other films, he gives his leading man depth, a personality, and a real human being in the form of Hanks, who carries the film throughout. Hanks, 57, who has appeared in some of the most successful films of all time, and won Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, gives the performance of a lifetime. In Captain Phillips, he plays a character almost similar to his character in Philadelphia; death is imminent. (Or, for Captain Phillips, is it?) In the last 10 minutes of this film, Phillips is distressed, emotional, confused, and in shock, and Hanks' performance in this scene is the mark of a true action genius. It is this part of the film that seals Hanks as one of the greatest actors of all time.
The actors playing the Somali pirates also deserve mention. They are not just the usual bad guy characters; each of them is completely drawn with their own personality, and not lumped as typical terrorists as seen on the big screen nowadays. Incidentally, the actors who played the pirates auditioned to be in this film in Minneapolis, which has a large Somali community, by responding to a television advert. Abdirahman had been working as a limousine driver, and auditioned and got what is basically the second lead role in the film, behind Hanks.
To set the record straight, the real crew members of the Alabama have claimed that this film does not tell the true story. The Chief Engineer of the Alabama, according to CNN, said that it was Phillips' recklessness which put the ship in pirate-controlled waters. Another engineer claimed that Phillips ignored warnings and set a course through dangerous waters to save time and money. Whatever the facts are, Captain Phillips the movie is one exhilarating ride, with a truly stunning performance by Hanks. Captain Phillips is the film event of the year. Go see it.