captain phillips movie poster Captain Phillips

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Billy Ray, Richard Phillips (book), Stephan Talty (book)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, David Warshaofsky, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey, Catherine Keener, Yul Vazquez, Max Martini

It’s the season for Oscar bait and awesome performances, and “based on historical events” movies have always been a favorite of Academy voters. Hot on the heels of Rush comes Captain Phillips, based on the true life experience of a freighter captain who runs into Somalian pirates.

The situation would make an awesome board game. Resources for the freighter crew include limited or improvised weapons, money for bribes, knowledge of the environment versus superior firepower on the side of the pirates, who are reluctant to actually kill anyone–that greatly decreases the possibility of a big ransom payoff. Both sides have the limited ability to call for help and advice from their colleagues outside, who are moving toward the ship . . .

The movie shows you both sides of the equation: Captain Phillips, first in Vermont, then in Oman as he takes command of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama; and a group of poor men in Somalia, sent off to grab a ship for ransom.

Phillips (the ever impressive Tom Hanks) is vigilant, well aware of the dangers of the coast off Somalia. But preparation can only take you so far.

When the pirates actually show up on radar, the crew works it by the book, calling Maritime Operations for help and evading as best they can. Eventually, though, there begins a days-long confrontation between four armed pirates led by the impulsive Muse and the virtually unarmed crew.

Terror in a situation they never expected is portrayed amazingly through the eyes of the freighter crew, in scene after scene as the stress levels up. The pirates are more playing things by ear, and less certain when things don’t go as planned. The film makes clear just how much influence a leader can have, as the two groups of men, respectively, take their cues from their captain and his demeanor.

As the title Captain Phillips indicates, Tom Hanks is all over this one, and he delivers. In spades. On the other side of the equation, first-time actor Barkhad Abdi is remarkably convincing and terrifyingly real as the pirate captain. These two playing off each other are the best moments in the film.

This one is not for the faint of heart–the reality it’s based on is even grimmer and more extreme than the movie, but they took it plenty far. It is well worth seeing and will easily keep your
attention for its more than two hour running time.

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