In 2009, the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates. Captain Richard Phillips did what he could to dissuade the hijackers from resorting to violence, while keeping the rest of his crew safe. What developed was a days long battle of endurance, wit and survival. A battle that I see no point revealing in this review. Truth is, I didn’t know the outcome of this tale, and I was better off for it. But if you happened to remember the headlines this story caused a few years ago, then it will be of little consequence. You’ll find Captain Phillips harrowing no matter how much you know going in.
I feel it necessary to be completely honest. I had doubts that Tom Hanks could pull this role off. I had trouble picturing the beloved actor in such a demanding role, helmed by such a stylistic director. While I have enjoyed a handful of Hanks’ performances over the past few years, I haven’t seen him really push himself in quite sometime. So, at the risk of dumbing you down with gratuitous hyperbole, trust me when I say that Tom Hanks’ performance as Captain Phillips is one of the very finest he’s ever given. It ranks with his best, and will surely keep Hanks busy this awards season.
What initially caught my eye about Hanks’ work here is that Captain Phillips is, well, kind of a dick. He’s an authoritative, no-nonsense boss – the kind of guy who is quick (and stern) to tell his crew that their coffee break has run long. There is no Tom Hanks charm in Captain Phillips. No cheap sentiment or exploitive emotion. This is a very skilled actor playing a man as a man, rather than a movie character. If the Tom Hanks you know and love ever left, then I’m here to tell you he is most certainly back.
As is the case with the best Greengrass films, each member of his cast is perfectly on point in the film. This includes David Warshofsky, Corey Johnson, and Chris Mulkey, a trio of splendid character actors who play members of Phillips’ crew, Max Martini as a Navy SEAL commander, and, specifically, Barkhad Abdi as the leader of the Somali pirates. Every man involved evokes the absolute appropriate mood in each scene they’re featured in.
I will always respect Paul Greengrass, if for no other reason than he handled United 93 with such precision and delicacy. Captain Phillips only increases my cinematic stock in the man. A man who proves yet again that he can craft a compelling, respectful film from a very messy real life situation.
You’re going to hear a lot about the final five minutes of Captain Phillips, from now until Hanks’ Oscar clip in March. I won’t ruin it here, but know that those minutes may very well contain the single greatest acting of Hanks’ career. Those minutes are an actor proving he’s still got a lot left in him. They are disturbing, haunting, and utterly magnificent. Words I could surely use to describe the film as a whole. A