Tom Hanks is back, baby. Well, he never really left, but his performance in Captain Phillips is engrossing and captivating. Tom Hanks is classic Tom Hanks, as he delivers a moving and emotional performance that surely puts his name in the ring for Best Actor. Hanks plays Richard Phillips, the captain of the MV Maersk Alabama, who sees his ship hijacked by Somali pirates. Throughout the film, Hanks is marvelous as his Phillips stays cool and calm under extreme circumstances and immense pressure. When the extraordinary ordeal is over, Phillips breaks down. A man in shock. The emotion Hanks exudes as a medical officer is looking him over is hard to watch. A true master at his craft.
And talking about masters, director Paul Greengrass does an incredible job creating an atmosphere. By using a “shaky-cam” docudrama style, Greengrass makes the film come alive. The camerawork is first-rate and the shakiness never feels overwhelming or unnecessary, which it does at times in his other films, mainly the Bourne films. Instead, it captures the environment of the sea and adds an extra element of emotion and commotion. And the close-ups of Phillips prove as a showcase for the work Hanks is doing. He is always in command of the screen, which makes the film feel real and, at times, terrifying, as you fear for the safety Phillips.
However, this film would not reach the level it is at if it is not for the objectivity presented for the pirates. Early in the film, Phillips talks about how difficult it is for his kids, who are entering the workplace. Phillips describes a bleak scenario where many qualified people are applying for the same jobs. It is what it is. Juxtapose these feelings in America and place them in Somalia, where Muse – played sensationally by Barkhad Abdi – is faced with the same situation that Phillips describes. There are many people vying for a chance to score big and there is simply not enough opportunity. It is what it is, just on the other side of the world.
Greengrass isn’t apologizing for what the Somalis do, but he is simply giving their side of the story its due. Times are tough everywhere and sometimes there are simple reasons as to why crime is committed. Muse, in the right situation and environment, might have a promising future, but he is stuck in Somalia, where is has very little rights and freedoms. As the film progresses and we see more and more of these characters and where they are coming from. Apply those points of view along with Phillips guiding a moral light and the entire picture becomes more clear. These are just kids stuck in a crumby circumstance.
Captain Phillips is an intense and emotional thrill ride and is a great showcase for a great American actor. Its pace is frenetic and cinematography is aggressive. There is a lot to love about this film.