Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass, is advertised as a thriller but offers much more.
The movie is based on true events in April 2009, when four Somali pirates hijacked the container ship Maersk Alabama and took Captain Richard Phillips on a lifeboat. After a five-day standoff between the US Navy and the pirates, the Navy successfully recovered Phillips.
Captain Phillips is a blockbuster. Greengrass excels in racking up the tension and always gives his audience only short breaks between each suspenseful moment. The movie also excels in its portrayal of the pirates not as one-dimensional characters but as human beings struggling to make a living.
One scene shows a Somali town, with homes made of mud and dirt and citizens wearing clothes that look like they came from the trash. For these people, piracy is the only form of employment they can get.
The performances by both Tom Hanks, who plays the title character, and newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who plays the pirate leader Muse, are also worth noting.
Hanks is believable as an intelligent yet average man in an extraordinary situation. We are immediately made aware of his ordinariness in the film’s beginning, when Phillips discusses the rapidly-changing world with his wife, voicing concern over their children and the difficulty of finding a job. Later, he shows intelligence through quick thinking and reasonable action in the face of danger.
Abdi’s character eludes easy pegging. He is not a cold-blooded terrorist, but neither is he worthy of total sympathy. He can get violent when his demands for money are not met, but he also works for a warlord who presumably will be very disappointed if he doesn’t return with anything. Muse is like a tragic hero, trapped in the economic and social problems of his home.
Thus, Captain Phillips offers a lot for moviegoers, including wonderfully edited suspense-filled scenes, believable acting and a nuanced take on piracy and poverty in the modern world. Regardless of whether you’re an action fan or not, this movie is worth its two hour runtime.