He ripped our hearts out as Andrew Beckett in “Philadelphia,” and he tugged at our heartstrings as Forrest Gump in the film of the same name. He scared us to death with Houston’s problem as Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13,” he amused the hell out of as Josh in “Big,” and he elicited our empathy as Paul Edgecomb in “The Green Mile.” But most of all he made us weep when a volleyball named Wilson floated away from him as Chuck Noland in “Cast Away.”
Now two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks has returned to the silver screen to deliver another memorable performance in “Captain Phillips,” a riveting film based upon the book titled “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty.
The book and the film chronicle the events that occurred on April 8, 2009, when four Somali pirates attacked and boarded the Maersk Alabama headed for Mombasa, Kenya, and carrying a crew of 20 and supplies intended to aid people in Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda.
As the film begins, Phillips’ (Hanks) wife drops him off at the airport, and he subsequently flies from Vermont to a port in Oman, where he takes command of the ship that is supposed to travel through the Gulf of Aden and ultimately arrive at Mombasa. Phillips, who is well aware that pirates pose a real threat near Somalia, decides to take some safety measures on the ship. His concern proves to be well founded when Somali pirates in two skiffs attempt to attack the ship, but Phillips and his crew manage to outrun them. However, they are not as fortunate the following day when four pirates led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) return and succeed in boarding the ship.
During the attack most of the Alabama’s crew hides in engine room, but Phillips remains on the bridge and is captured. Muse intends hold the ship and crew until he gets a sizable payment from the company that owns the Alabama.
Without revealing too much, let’s just say that things don’t go according to Muse’s plans, and Phillips ends up as a hostage in an enclosed power lifeboat with the pirates. What ensues is a harrowing attempt to rescue Phillips and bring the pirates to justice with the help of the U.S. Navy Destroyer USS Bainbridge under the command of Capt. Frank Castellano (Yul Vazquez) and a team of Navy SEALS.
“Captain Phillips” is an exciting, action-packed, and suspenseful film, and it’s all the more thrilling because it is based upon actual events. That Phillips survived such a horrific experience and actually returned to sea is truly amazing. In the film’s production notes director Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy”) explained what he was striving for in the film.
“We’ve had a lot of very good films in the last decade that have looked at issues of national security and terrorism, but I wanted this film to look at a broader conflict in our world — the conflict between the haves and the have-nots. The confrontation between Phillips, who is part of the stream of the global economy, and the pirates, who are not, felt fresh and new and forward-looking to me. The standoff between Phillips and Muse is a thrilling high-seas siege, but one that speaks to the larger forces shaping the world today. I’ve always felt that a story should be told in a way that is compelling and thrilling, but also thought-provoking.”
Because 75 percent of he film was actually shot at sea, it obviously is very realistic, and the cinematography is superb. Some of the movie takes place in cramped quarters of the lifeboat, and these scenes were particularly effective.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of the film is the performance of Abdi, who had never acted before. His portrayal of Muse is incredible for someone with no experience, and he conveys his character’s combination of anger, menace, confusion, and, at times, fear beautifully.
Of course Hanks is the one who actually carries the film, and, as always, he is at the very top of his game. He is one of those actors who have the rare gift of conveying thoughts and emotions without speaking, and he uses it to the maximum in this movie. Being the consummate actor he is, he prepared for the role by actually getting to know the real Richard Phillips, and in the production notes Hanks expressed his amazement at how soon after the events depicted in the film Phillips returned to sea.
“That in particular I found amazing. That a man who suffered such a wrenching, terrifying ordeal, could bring himself to go right back to sea. I knew understanding Phillips’ strength — that particular kind of personal fortitude and connection to the sea, despite what happened — would be essential to understanding the sort of man Richard is. The reality is that not everybody has what it takes to be a ship captain — and not everyone could have withstood being taken hostage.”
Although Hanks’ portrayal of Phillips is flawless throughout the movie, his acting during the last few minutes really defies adequate description. After being rescued, Phillips goes into shock, and the way Hanks carries this off is one of the most remarkable bits of acting I have ever seen. In fact, it may just earn him his sixth Oscar nomination as best actor.
“Captain Phillips” definitely is one of the year’s best films, but it does contain a number of loud and frenetic scenes with everyone yelling simultaneously, and I found this annoying at times. I also didn’t like the inclusion of so many action scenes at night, but I understood the necessity for them. Nevertheless, put this film, which earns a solid nine, on your must-see list. You won’t be sorry.