Posted by Sean van der Heijden
"Captain Phillips," which opened in theaters on Oct. 11, tells the true story of the eponymous captain, whose cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates masquerading as fishermen in 2009. Directed by Paul Greengrass, it starts off rather slow, taking a while to give all the background information and set up the story. Once it gets going, though, the film turns into an intense rescue mission and moral quandary that is impossible to turn away from.
Greengrass does a fine job at directing, but his handheld camerawork is incredibly shaky and at times nauseating. That being said, almost the entire film takes place on the ocean, so the direction does do a fantastic job at immersing the viewer further into the situation at sea.
Tom Hanks, who stars as the titular character, gives his best performance in over ten years. He portrays Phillips as an average, slightly arrogant man thrust into a highly unusual and stressful situation. Phillips-whom the pirates nickname "Irish" due to his heritage-is never directly referred to as a hero. Rather, the lengths he goes to keep his crew safe are presented as completely natural and are not particularly highlighted within the film.
Throughout the entire film, you can literally see the fear in Hanks's eyes-but this isn't acting, it is more than that. While terrified of the pirates who take him for ransom, he definitely feels sorry for them and goes to lengths to help them settle the situation calmly. At one point in the film , Phillips says to the pirate leader, Muse, "There's got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people." Muse replies, "Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America."
Moments like this present the pirates as actual people, simply doing their jobs and trying to bring money back to their villages and leaders. Barkhad Abdi, who portrays Muse, comes out of nowhere to give the standout performance of the film. He holds his ground against Hanks the entire time, and while he certainly makes Muse into the villain of the film, it's clear that he really has no choice but to occupy this position.
Both actors are definitely in serious contention to snag an Oscar nomination come January and I suspect the film will get a few more as well. I'd also like to point out the brilliance of Henry Jackman's score, which serves as an intense, pulsing backdrop for the action that takes place on screen.
Overall, while 'Captain Phillips' takes a while to get going, the wait is well worth it. The film turns into a complex moral thriller that, despite potentially knowing the ending due to the fact that it is based on a true story, remains very intense throughout.