Genre: Action, Adventure
Director: Paul Greengrass
Staring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener, Faysal Ahmed
Tom Hanks will almost certainly receive a flotilla of award nods for his role as the Captain of the hijacked Maersk ship Alabama, in Paul Greengrass’ taut thriller Captain Philips.
Beginning with two stories in parallel, the restrained goodbye as the eponymous hero leaves his home, told against the tense selection of a crew in an impoverished Somalia, the film is a human excavation of an incredible story. These initial scenes and their respective characters are presented in tandem and yet also as binary opposites, which come to a violent head as Barkhad Abdi’s Muse hijacks the ship.
Based on a true story, Greengrass again – as with United 93 – tackles prominent real world scenarios. His high level of realism coupled with the portrayal of believably human characters gives the narrative extraordinary effect and where Green Zone was an unfortunate mess, Captain Phillips is a tight, effective thriller.
In the hands of another director, perhaps the film wouldn’t give as much screen time to the terrifying pirates, yet Greengrass gives first-time actor Abdi, almost as much of the stage as the assured Hanks. His performance, petrifying in its magnetism, is one of many elements that make the film so captivating. As Phillips and Muse engage in a subdued battle of the wits, the expected exposition at the start as Phillips leaves home can be forgivably included in an otherwise smart edit.
Here, unlike Green Zone, Greengrass’ frantic camera crafts the investable illusion of documentary and the film thus becomes almost uncomfortably realistic with the nauseating seasick side-effects finally justified in context. The grounded storytelling makes it easy to forget what is ultimately an inevitable ending, and upholds an unrelenting tension throughout. Hanks, reliably impressive until the end, is the instantly relatable hero undone by the events he must endure.
Perhaps we can also remain thankful that the film’s cathartic moment is one of relief and not of jubilant nationalistic celebration. Greengrass, through his visceral story and kinetic eye, brings the truth to the forefront of a modern cinema, one ever more obsessed by the unreal.