Captain Phillips review: Tom Hanks produces one of his finest performances to date

Posted on 5 November 2013
By Craig Kell
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Paul Greengrass repeats the brutal tension of previous film United 93 with his latest effort – the seafaring thriller Captain Phillips.

Based on the heroic true story of Captain Richard Phillips’ experiences with Somalian pirates in 2009, the British filmmaker succeeds in focusing on both the point of view of both Phillips and his crew.

Whilst also capturing the motivations of the Somalian bandits whose lives they dramatically cross at sea in this pulsating game of cat and mouse.

While the results of his new film are nowhere near as tragic and harrowing as the 9/11 tragedy Captain Phillips will still leave you completely drained by the time the credits roll.

This trait has become very noticeable in Greengrass’ films alongside his constant use of the shaky cam, which is used again here as he captures the dizzy and claustrophobic moments on board the ship once the pirates arrive to cause havoc.

This is all captured immaculately by the masterful editing of Christopher Rouse while Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography crisply comes into play when the situation switches to Phillips being held captive inside the lifeboat.

Writer Billy Ray ably assists Greengrass with a well-structured script. Enabling us to root for Phillips from beginning to end, as he becomes aware of the potential danger and shows resilience in trying to protect his crew from their captors.

But at the same time, Ray never tries to portray the gaunt-looking antagonists as dastardly evil even when their own arrogance and poor decision-making will ultimately cause their own doom.

Instead, we see them as desperate men doing what they have to do in order to survive which creates some unlikely sympathy from audiences.

Given his lack of brilliant performances in recent times, Tom Hanks makes a stunning return to dramatic acting with his role as the authoritative Richard Phillips.

Whether it be the opening scene where he discusses fears about the world his children will grow up in to his wife or the emotionally-powerful last 15 minutes where his character’s life is placed at dangerous risk, Hanks produces moments of raw vulnerability that should hopefully ensure him a return to the Oscar table.

But it isn’t all about Hollywood’s most likeable man who dominates the performance as newcomer Barkhad Abdi proves over the course of the film.

Looking gaunt and devilishly referring to Phillips as “Irish”, Muse is a man layered with pride yet tries to be as intimidating as possible to show he is control.

Had this been a routine action blockbuster, the character could easily have been portrayed as a boo-hiss villain but Abdi is able to produce a complex turn that is supported greatly by the way he is written in Ray’s terrific script.

Another bold move by Greengrass is his decision to cast unknown actors and real-life marine soldiers to produce a more realistic tone to the film that worked out so well in United 93.

But the film does suffer from a few lapses, which slightly prevent it from becoming a cinematic masterpiece of 2013.

Audiences expecting a fast-paced thriller will probably be left disappointed as the film takes time to build up to the main confrontation and begins to drag a little when Phillips gets forced onto the lifeboat.

Those who have read about the real-life story may also be put off by some of the revelations that have come out since the film’s release that suggest Phillips was far more unlikeable than portrayed here.

However, you can blame that on the producers who no doubt wanted to make the story as sentimental and powerful as possible.

Critics of Greengrass’s Bourne films may have a hard time trying to sit through this outing because of its constant use of the shaky-cam method, which is bound to leave some viewers feeling dizzy, if not sea sick.

But despite questions about its authenticity and a slightly overlong running time, Captain Phillips is a riveting film about human survival with Tom Hanks producing one of his best performances to date.