Let’s get something straight from the outset before we get into the nitty gritty of the amazing Captain Phillips; there is literally no director working at the moment who is better at action scenes and films than Paul Greengrass and there should be no problem with issuing that statement because it is entirely true. The man is a master of his art, his direction of the camera and the build up of tension repeatedly has his audience hooked from the outset.
Not only that, but he has proved on many on occasion that he can live up to the reputation that he has created for himself, continuing to produce work that is spellbinding. Sunday Bloody Sunday really got to the heart of, not only the Troubles, but the fear and confusion of that day in the North. The Bourne films need no introduction, neither do they need any more compliments, they are the films that changed the spy genre entirely. As for United 93, if you don’t cry from the sheer release of the film ending, then you were definitely not paying attention, it is marvellous.
Captain Phillips proves that Greengrass is not going to be letting up on the action and tension anytime soon. To date, this is his finest work and given his back catalogue, that is quite the compliment.
Based on the true story from the book written by Rich Phillips, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea, the film revolves around its lead character, Captain Phillips, played by Tom Hanks, who on a routine cargo ship voyage in 2009 was attacked by Somali pirates. Without really wasting any time, Greengrass sends us out to sea with Phillips and his crew who are entering what they know to be extremely dangerous, pirate-filled waters. At the beginning of their journey, the Captain puts the crew through their paces, testing their limits and making sure they know what to do in the event of a pirate take-over.
However, soon the events become real life. Phillips notices two boats approaching the ship and despite his best efforts to lose them, the pirates are soon on board, demanding money that doesn’t really exist and threatening the bridge before searching the ship. As bad as this situation initially seems, events take a downward spiral when the pirates make a swift move and manage to take Phillips hostage.
Captain Phillips does feel like two different films that tie together seamlessly, the first part is the pursuit and attack, the second, the negotiation to free Phillips. While the first half turns the tension dial up to its limit, Greengrass creates such a level of fear for the lives of those involved that the second half does not really let that tension go; it simply builds and builds. Even though you are entirely aware that these pirates board the ship, until they actually stand on deck you will never believe it to be true. You will never stop rooting for Phillips.
That, of course, is purely down to the amazing performance from Tom Hanks. It’s hard to believe that Hanks could ever top anything he has already achieved in his career but Captain Phillips is certainly a career high. Delving into a huge spectrum of emotion, Hanks really draws you in from the very beginning, and without giving anything away, the second half of this film is undoubtedly a career best performance. You will leave the cinema shaking.
Of course his captors live up to their expectations, particularly Barkhad Abdi who plays the leader of the group, Muse. The genius behind his character construction is that although you will feel sorry for him, you never lose sight of the fact that his actions are violent and cause harm to him, his crew and those he has attacked.
Far more than just being an action film, Captain Phillips attempts to make a kind of political commentary also. Although the pirates know the situation they are getting themselves into, there is something bittersweet about the arrival of the Navy SEALS to save Captain Phillips, they know they now have no hope, their lifeboat stranded between three massive naval ships, but the message comes across fairly clear, these men don’t really have a choice, Greengrass makes that this evident from the first scene and especially with Muse’s line “maybe in America” when asked if he could just be a fisherman. There is also something quite frightening about the lack of humanity from the lead Navy SEAL, he almost comes across like a robot.
If there is anything which could have been changed, it probably would have served the film better if fifteen minutes were taken out, particularly from the scenes aboard the lifeboat. However, this is a minor problem and doesn’t have a massive impact on the rest of the film.