Verdict: 4 / 5
After the increased pirate activity in the waters surrounding the Horn of Africa in 2009, the MV Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship carrying mostly food and relief aid intended for Africa, was boarded and hijacked by Somali pirates; the first US ship to be hijacked in 200 years. The tale that ensues will have you gripped for the full duration of the 134-minute feature. Based on A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea (2010) written by Capt. Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty, the story is presented to us by director, Paul Greengrass, with remarkable results.
Tom Hanks stars in the role of Capt. Phillips, while Barkhad Abdi plays the role of the lead pirate in this adventure. Hanks may have been around for some time now, and his acting prowess is well documented, but his role here is one that will stand out for some time. In contrast to his years of service, Abdi makes his film debut as pirate leader, Abduwali Muse, and delivers a performance worth remembering. Abdi and his pirate co-stars, none of whom were professional actors before their roles, deliver scene stealing performances that are both believable and gripping.
Many films based on true life often have a feel of not being true to life, actual facts aside. Thankfully, Greengrass has built a reputation of delivering more realistic films, without the over-the-top special effects, or the simple dramatic licence in an attempt to draw a few tears from prospective viewers. Captain Phillips is a film with very little technology-based inclusions, such as those we find in Gravity, and relies mostly on how the story is told, with a few camera tricks and angles thrown in for some effect. One aspect I found significant was the brief story of the Somali pirates, and how they found themselves out at sea attempting to hijack major cargo ships. All excuses aside, this changes how viewers will see the film as a whole.
The film, the book and the events have received mixed opinions since the actual events in 2009. While the film was been praised for its screenplay, direction, cinematography and the performances by both Hanks and Abdi, the book and the events within, have come under scrutiny, led by the actual crew members, who have sued Maersk and Captain Phillips for his role in the ship’s hijacking. The case, still ongoing, is of high interest, but takes little away from the film, which delivers action from the early stages right up until the credits roll.
As with Gravity, my expectations from Captain Phillips were quite low. And likewise, I was left particularly pleased with the end result; somewhat more than I did with Gravity. The big difference between the two may be that Captain Phillips is based on actual events, which adds a great deal of emotional engagement with the viewer. But take nothing away, this a definite top 10 film for 2013. Captain Phillips also reminds us that you don’t always need million-dollar explosives, giant robots, or geek-fest CGI to enjoy a film.