Captain Phillips

captain phillipsReleased: 2013
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

Tense, nail-biting and brilliant


One of my least favourite aspects of my own personality is that I can be a bit of a spoiler addict at times. I don’t ever (deliberately) share spoilers although my husband does have bad memories of our discussion about the first series of 24. No, I look for spoilers. I actively hunt them out but the little thrill I feel when I find out what to look forward to is soon overtaken by the disappointment that the ending doesn’t come as a surprise. It doesn’t stop me though – it’s like a drug. The big house move and BT Openreach debacle which left us broadband-less for 6 weeks has had its benefits though. I managed to go to see Captain Phillips without any prior knowledge of how the story was to end and I’m so glad that I did. I spent the entire film on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happened.

Captain Phillips tells the true story of the Maersk Alabama, the first ship flying under an American flag to fall victim to piracy since the late 18th Century. While travelling from Oman to Kenya, the cargo ship captained by the eponymous Phillips (Tom Hanks) is captured by four Somali pirates. Following a confrontation between the crew and the pirates Phillips is taken hostage and a tense stand-off ensues.

There are so many good things to say about this film it’s hard to know where to begin. Tom Hanks as Phillips is outstanding. He gives his character real depth and emotion and early Oscar buzz is well deserved. I can’t imagine any other performance matching its power – often fear and stoicism are conveyed with little more than a twitch of the eye.

There are moments – about two hours worth of them actually – of real tension and suspense. The radar representation of the chasing down of the Alabama by the pirate skiffs is nail-biting and the scenes in the lifeboat are genuinely claustrophobic. I’m not normally a fan of Paul Greengrass’s shaky cam, quick cut style but here it worked perfectly and helped to build up the incredibly tense atmosphere.

Captain Phillips isn’t a perfect film – there is a shocking piece of exposition dialogue in the first few minutes which sets up the main character as just an ordinary bloke with the same family worries as the rest of us. I did cringe and hope the rest of the script wasn’t quite so horrendous – thankfully it wasn’t but it did make me worry for a few minutes. The representation of three of the four pirates is fairly clichéd with their characters straight out of central casting – the scared young boy, the maniac and the relatively reasonable one. Barkhad Abdi as Muse the leader of the pirate group, however, gives his character a little more subtlety and depth. His performance is both frightening and surprisingly touching. The pirates aren’t portrayed as completely evil, there is a small look into the fear and poverty they face in their villages and the potential reasons they turn to piracy but it’s skimmed over very quickly. The criticisms of the real Captain Phillips are missed out completely here and probably rightly so.

I didn’t go to see this film to see either a political debate about international poverty or an expose of corporate failings, I’m not a Guardian reader. I went to see a nail-biting representation of a real-life event with a stunning central performance and that’s exactly what I got. I’m not sure if Captain Phillips is one of the best films of the year but Tom Hanks gives one of this year’s most powerful performances and I expect that his name will be cropping up lots in the coming awards season.

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