Everybody seems to love a good pirate adventure, but when it’s a modern-day story based on the memoirs of the Captain who was hijacked, the fun disappears and only the horrific terror remains. That is what you will get with British director Paul Greengrass’s latest film, “Captain Phillips” (2013). The film is based on the memoir, “A Captain’s Duty,” written by Captain Richard Phillips, based on his experience aboard the U.S. container ship, Maersk Alabama, in 2009. The film stays with Phillips (Tom Hanks) throughout the ordeal, as he is almost always alone with the four Somali pirates, played by Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali.
Like almost all pirate movies, the adventure is there. It is a thrill ride of a story, adapted by screenwriter Billy Ray, who has shown a much appreciated maturity from his previous films.The action, however, is not the captivating part of the story. It’s the suspense that keeps you interested, particularly throughout the first third of the film, where very little happens. Director Paul Greengrass toys with his audience in an attempt to build suspense for the final act, and it works marvelously.
As usual for Paul Greengrass, this film has been shot in an almost-documentary style, with fast cuts and jumpy camera work making the audience feel like part of the experience. His films are unique today, and always put us into the middle of the action, whether we want to be there or not. There is no denying that any film based on an actual event benefits from his style, which is why his previous endeavors like “United 93” (2006) and “Green Zone” (2010) have been so well received.
The directing, however, is not the reason you should see “Captain Phillips”. Nor is it the writing, the editing, or the fact that the cast and crew spent nine weeks filming aboard a container ship in the Mediterranean Sea to make the experience as realistic as possible. The reason that you should see “Captain Phillips” is because of Tom Hanks. It’s been 13 years since Hanks delivered a performance so powerful and emotional, and man is it good to see. Hanks has regained his previous form and showed that he is still capable of anything, delivering what promises to be one of the strongest performance of the year. It is he, with the help of Somali pirate leader Barkhad Abdirahman, who gives this film a depth, filled with power. Without these two performances, this would one of many actions dramas released each year, but thanks to Hanks, we are given something special yet again.