Real-life films are often subject to scrutiny by the media, the people involved as well as those aiming to find artistic license taken by Hollywood this day and age.
Director Paul Greengass is accustomed to depicting real world events, such as the 2006 film United 93 recounting the events of Sept. 11. This year, he returns to the “true story” genre with the hijacking thriller Captain Phillips.
In the film, Richard Phillips, played by Tom Hanks, is well known for transporting cargo ships all over the world. In April of 2009, he is assigned to guide container ship, Muersk Alabama across the Indian Ocean to Kenya.
Meanwhile, a small band of young men from Somali conspire to get rich by hijacking a vessel and hold it for ransom.
The ringleader of the gang, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi, aspires to make enough money to move to America some day.
Unable to attack a convoy of ships, the pirates decide to attack the Muersk Alaabama. Despite attempts, Phillips is unable to stop the hijackers from boarding the ship and is forced to fight for the lives of his crew.
As the title character, Hanks gives one of the finest performances of his career. He portrays Phillips as a hardened, experienced mariner who does things strictly by the book.
Unlike other dramatic thrillers, he doesn’t engage in gun battles or fistfights, but instead relies on his wits to confront his kidnappers.
While the story doesn’t focus on Philips’ personal life, Catherine Keener makes the most of her brief appearance as his wife, Andrea.
Being accustomed to her husband’s stressful career, this relationship allows the viewer to see Phillips’ softer and vulnerable side upon the realization that he may not make it out alive.
The real standout in the film is Barkhad Abdi, who makes his first acting debut in the role of Abduwali Muse. In his scenes with Hanks, Abdi portrays Muse as a conflicted young man forced into piracy in order to provide for his family. Despite not having any acting experience, he projects emotion into the role that is well written and not laden with clichés.
In a quiet yet determined desperation to negotiate a ransom with Phillips, Abdi’s character poignantly explains “I’ve come too far” when asked why he won’t stop. This allows the character to be seen as a full-embodied individual and not a one dimensional terrorist stereotype.
Greengass presents the film in a gritty and realistic setting. Contrary to United 93’s airplane setting, this story’s sea-based set proves to be just as dangerous.
Barry Ackroyd, the cinematographer, uses hand-held cameras to project a closer focus on the characters’ faces during confrontations and fight scenes. By doing so, the resulting effect has a cinema verite approach to viewing the film. Composer Henry Jackman’s score is subtle, low-key and avoids bombastic musical cues.
Captain Phillips is one of the year’s best films and a true comeback vehicle for Hanks. Abdi also deserves praise for his endearing performance.
Greengass’ did a phenomenal job directing this film is has a strong chance at next year’s Academy Awards.