The director who gave us the superior sequels to the Bourne films Paul Greengrass teams up with Tom Hanks for his latest thriller. Based on a true story of a container ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates Greengrass’ film was nominated for several awards, but can it impress me?
Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is in command of the MV Maersk Alabama making its way to Mombasa when Somali pirates try to board his ship. Initially the pirates fail in their task but when they returned undeterred Captain Phillips will have to use all his wits to stop them taking his ship.
From his previous work we know Greengrass can make a good thriller, and Captain Phillips is no exception. The film starts off with a slow game of cat and mouse seeing both the crew of the Alabama ship and the Somali pirates start their journey and relay the mission to their crews. Despite the Somali pirates being in small skiffs they are still a threat to the much larger container ship as they prove as they approach the Alabama. Showing both sides of this story is key to why this film works. Captain Phillips and his crew are technically our protagonist but the Somalis are not the boo-hiss villains that they would normally be. We see Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) put together his crew of three and prepare for their journey. If they don’t their village will be in trouble with the local warlords. They are not just faceless criminals and seeing their efforts to get to the container ship is impressive. At times I felt torn between the two crews as I didn’t want the Alabama to get hijacked but at the same time it was exciting to see the smaller Skiff beat the odds to get to their goal.
A big part to bringing gravitas to the Somali pirates stories is newcomer Abdi. He brings depth and layers as the captain of his small crew. His desperation to succeed in his task matches Phillips’ determination to make sure he doesn’t. The problem is that only one of these men will win in the end and neither of them can afford to make a wrong move. It’s tough to put a newcomer against Hanks and feel as though he owns the scene as much as Hanks does but Abdi manages it. I’m not surprised Abdi won a Bafta for this intense role.
If there are faults to this movie it’s that while the movie is tense and exciting while watching the pirates trying to catch and board the ship, then hunting for the crew when they do get on board, some of the tension is lost when it Phillips is taken hostage on a lifeboat. Although there is a claustrophobic thrill to the scenes of the lifeboat, switching back and forth between the lifeboat and the scenes with the Navy attempting a rescue loses the momentum somewhat. It also a bit too long for me.
Still for a grown up and exhilarating thriller Captain Phillips is hard to beat.
Rating 4/5 – this is a smart and powerful movie for those with summer blockbuster fatigue