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Film Review – Captain Phillips

3 min read

Captain Phillips is the true story of Captain Richard Phillips, who, along with his crew, was hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa in 2009.  The story was widely publicized at the time as the Maersk Alabama was the first US cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years.

The film introduces Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) while at home preparing for his departure as an average, no-nonsense family kind of guy, and then a professional, by-the-books sea captain as he deals with crew issues and runs them through emergency drills after leaving port. Very quickly though, the concerns he and the crew have about the notorious route down the African coast become real, as during a drill, the ship becomes the target of an actual attempted hijacking.  From that point on, the remainder of the two and a quarter hour runtime is high drama and chair-gripping action.  It’s a tense game of cat and mouse between the pirates and the ship crew, until a stalemate leaves Captain Phillips, by himself in a lifeboat with all the hijackers.  The US Navy arrives, and this leads to a showdown between the US Navy and the pirates until a special operations SEAL team end the standoff.

Even though you know exactly what the outcome is, it doesn’t diminish the incredible tension and emotion you feel from watching this film. Despite what you heard or read about it in the papers, you realize that there is so much you didn’t know about the story that you almost forget how it ends.  Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Supremacy), and writer Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Flightplan) really explore the relationships and power struggles between each of the pirates, as well as between Captain Phillips and the pirates. It makes for a complex web of human dynamics that give the story and characters a rich depth, adds to the drama, and allows it to hold many surprises.  This film hardly gives you a moment to breathe as the story unfolds quickly with so many twists and turns until the standoff comes to an abrupt end, at which time you will most likely exhale very deeply.

In the final scene, Captain Phillips is being seen by a Navy doctor and is basically in shock, and Greengrass handles it brilliantly with almost excruciating detail.  As the trauma of what he has experienced sets in, Captain Phillips, despite having been so focused and level-headed throughout the entire ordeal, finally breaks down and is inconsolable and practically incoherent. It’s very moving (you sort of feel the same way a little bit) and Hanks elevates his good performance to stellar with this scene.   His performance is the highlight of what are, overall, great performances from the entire cast, many of whom (the pirates in particular) are virtually unknown.

Overall, Captain Phillips is a tense, nail-biting thriller.  Despite a well-publicized story where most people already know how it ends, it holds many surprises and you should definitely have a box of Kleenex handy.

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