“No one gets hurt if you don't play no games,” says Muse (Barkhad Abdi), leader of four Somali pirates. “Look at me, look at me – I'm the captain now.” He's threatening Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the Maersk Alabama, container ship, 145 miles off the Somali coast in 2009. That's the setup for this gripping survival drama in which desperate pirates take Phillips hostage.
Will pirates get the millions of dollars they demand? Do Navy Seals and the USS Bainbridge arrive in time? Is everything going to be OK, as both pirate leader and US negotiator say? For answers, see this well-made drama.
Tom Hanks is outstanding as Captain Phillips, no-nonsense, hard-nosed leader who suppresses his emotions until an astonishingly moving sequence at film's end. It's Academy-Award worthy work – disciplined, underplayed, serious-minded, heroic. Barkhad Abdi is compelling as Muse who, forced by Somali warlords into piracy, tries to lead three terrified young men who, like him, don't know what they've gotten into. “Everything going to be OK,” he says. “After this, I go to America. In New York, I buy a car.”
Others in the cast include, as Somali pirates, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali. Catherine Keener is Andrea Phillips. Corey Johnson, David Warshofsky, and Chris Mulkey are officers on the Maersk Alabama.
“Captain Phillips” is a well-made, tense survival drama based, as they say in Hollywood, on a true story. Its pleasures include strong performances by an (almost) all-male cast, smart script by Billy Ray and Richard Phillips (from Phillips' book), and Paul Greengrass' taut direction which falters, slightly, during the film's second half. Hand-held camera work adds to a sense of events spinning out of control. A take-away from the film is that Captain Phillips and pirate Muse are players in a global economic system about which neither has a say. “Our job,” says Phillips to his crew, “is to move the cargo as fast as possible.” Says a crew member, “They're not paying me enough to fight pirates.” To Muse, Phillips says, “There's got to be something better than being a fisherman and kidnapping people.” “Maybe in America,” says Muse, “maybe in America. I come too far. I can't give up.”
Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, violence with bloody images and some substance abuse, “Captain Phillips” runs 134 minutes, commanding your attention most all of the time. It's a smart, tough film for adults and older teens.
Tom Hanks is Captain Phillips,
Hostage on the ocean blue,
Tense, well-made drama,
Gripping and, mostly, true.