‘Captain Phillips’ Review

“Relentless tension and edge of the seat anxiety”


Braving the dangerous seas off the coast of Somalia, Tom Hanks has once again reminded us of his unequivocal ability of becoming the silver screen’s quintessential “uncommon common man”. Playing merchant mariner, Captain Richard Phillips in a film depicting the real life Captain’s account of his cargo vessel, the container ship Alabama, being hijacked by Somalian pirates in 2009, himself and director Paul Greengrass has showcased a tense dramatisation that can proudly sit alongside both their best work.

On a routine journey along the East-African coast line, Captain Phillips (Hanks) and his crew are boarded and held hostage by four pirates in search of big fortune. But as complications and mistrust arise, Phillips is suddenly thrown into being the centre of an ongoing hostage stand-off, with his ingenuity and help of his fellow countrymen the only chance of making it out alive.

In relation to Paul Greengrass’ previous movies, this has a very strong resonance with United 93. You have both movies taking an unbelievably frightening situation that puts normal everyday people in the centre of the drama, whilst the higher powers that be around the situation work best to formulate a rescuing method. With Captain Phillips you do get that resonance all the more greater, already having a pre-knowledge of the overall outcome and a sense of simmering dread lingering over the entire time, works just as much here as it did for United 93. Partly in the way Greengrass builds tension and drama throughout, without any sign of him ever letting up works really well and he demonstrates just how he can achieve a documentary feel to a given situation playing out.

You get a sense with any Paul Greengrass movies that it’s not a case of “if” but “when”. You know the harsh, scary, unrelenting drama is going to occur any moment, but it’s how he builds towards it that is just as crucial. Even when security is at its tightest – whether it be the fateful plane of United 93 or the Alabama here – there is that sense in the background that all hell is going to eventually break loose. Also, you could view this as an action movie, with a high view towards the American military and literal sea chases, but it’s most prominently a drama about a guy just doing his job, as many characters state often that they may work on a ship but they’re not in the navy.

But as Greengrass continues to deliver with the camera, it’s Tom Hanks that takes the applaud for his Captain Phillips. Even without exerting himself, his down to earth, realistic approach to being just an everyday guy thrust into this huge ordeal never diminishes for one second. His stand-alone bravery, yet not shying away from at times feeling out of his depth when danger plays out, is pitched brilliantly and Hanks shows us he still captures that undiminished likeable factor which he’s carried with ease throughout his movies. By having lesser known actors around him in the form of the pirates, who are fantastic in their gritty hard-hitting sense, and the ship’s crew just added to that feeling of him being thrown into the middle of the drama.

Even with the temptation to “Americanise” this story to its fullest and there’s no question that it waves the stars and stripes to the max, it’s the relentless tension and edge of the seat anxiety that flows all the way through; that is the real triumph. So much so that the conclusion effortlessly speaks for itself in many ways and brings you to a mindset that whilst it may not sway your opinion on the depiction and treatment of pirating, it fully brings home the danger and the scary reality of being out in the open and exposed to the elements that may bring any forms of danger.

It’s a real nail biter and brilliantly well made. It’s harsh realism and gripping storytelling has showcased that both Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks have produced something that is just as thrilling and harrowing as either have done before.