Captain Phillips (2013) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Billy Ray (screenplay), Richard Phillips (based upon the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea”)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman

Sometimes a movie will come along and you won’t go near it initially. There is no reason for this other than erm… nah. Four years later I watch Captain Philips and my initial thought is Why did it take me so long to watch this true story about Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the U.S. flagged MV Maersk Alabama?

Interestingly enough this was the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. Now for anyone who hasn’t watched this thinking there is a chance this may be a real life version of “Under Siege (1992)” think again. There is very little action in this movie, “Captain Phillips” is in actual fact a tense physiological thriller.

Tom Hanks portrays Captain Phillips and comes across as a methodical and meticulous individual which I suppose in his position he has to be. Whilst reading about pirate threats in the waters they are sailing in on route to their destination off the coast of Africa he begins to think that practise drills in the event of a mutiny wouldn’t be a bad idea and having the crew ready.

Whilst practicing these drills Phillips notices an unusual movement on the radar and quickly realises pirates are on their way. The thing I like about the Captain is he never breaks away from procedure and believes taking the necessary action and preventions should be enough to keep these pirates at bay. In fact, that’s exactly what happens the first time as the pirates fail to conquer and can’t keep up with the cargo ship.

Phillips and the crew know that that isn’t the end and begin to plan for the next attack. It isn’t long before the pirates are back and more prepared to climb on board the ship. After failed attempts by the crew to water cannon the pirates off the boat, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) declares himself the new captain and along with his pirate crew take control of the ship.

There is a desperation to Muse and his crew and this stems back to the troubles the people of Somalia endure and pressure from their bosses to succeed in their mutiny. Barkhad Abdi’s character switches between a man in control and confident to a confused and troubled man. Mostly this has to do with Captain Philipps managing to get in his head and Tom Hanks is brilliant and delivering his dialogue at the right moment and the right tone in these scenes to “derail” the initial plans of the pirates in diversions and stalling tactics.

Unfortunately after a series of arguments and brawls the pirates decide to take Captain Phillips hostage on one of his own life boats. This is where I think the movie excels as a physiological thriller. One man in a confined space unarmed against four pirates on edge with guns awaiting a ransom from the US Government.

Over the course of the next hour of the movie it is interesting to see Phillips get in the head of the youngest of the pirates who injured his foot on board the Cargo Ship and the Captain is willing to help the boys injury. For the audience members we understand what he is really doing is trying to split the group mentally and show he isn’t a threat to them and in fact tried to find them an easy route out of this mess without anyone getting killed in the process.

The Action flits back and force between the US Navy and the Pirate ship as negotiations between the parties for the safety of Captain Phillips begins. If I had a slight niggle about the character of Phillips it would be from what I read he was mentally tortured for long period of times in the real life situation. In the movie none of that is really evident apart from a few moments of anxiety from Tom Hanks. The physiological aspect of the final third is more like a slow game of chess, which in turn adds to the suspense and the negotiations are very cagey as Max Martini who portrays the SEAL Commander is the voice between the Navy and the Pirates and does a stern job of being in control of the situation and adds to the intensity of the situation also.

For anyone who hasn’t watched “Captain Phillips” I won’t ruin the ending but what I will say is that the climax to the movie and the ending is emotionally draining. Tom Hanks rarely disappoints and here is no exception. From beginning to the end his portrayal of the Captain is grounded and real. There are no obvious heroics but a subtle bravery from this man who all the time was thinking of the well being of his crew and to an extent the pirates also.

Cinematically the movie is very close to the actors and a lot of the shots are close up of their faces and the emotions running through these characters is obvious to see. Director of photography Barry Ackroyd manages to capture some beautiful shots and along with the films editor Christopher Rouse know how to intensify a scene with the timing of each scene. Henry Jackman is perfect to add atmosphere with his beautiful score and with an impressive CV in the MCU, X-Men and the Kingsman you can see (or is that hear) it was a no brainer.

Overall “Captain Phillips” could have been an over the top action movie based on real life events. Thankfully this movie hit all the right notes as far as I’m concerned and my experience of the film was engaging, enthralling and emotional. I highly recommend this to anyone who hasn’t watched it yet. I can see why it was nominated for 6 academy awards. Highly Recommendable.

 

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