The scenario of ‘you wait for one pirate siege’, the world of cinema serves audiences a double with a merciful lack of Jack Sparrow. Already this year, we’ve had a satisfying Danish ‘portion’ courtesy of Tobia Lindholm with the startling docu-style realism of ‘A Hijacking’, a visual style that has often been associated with Paul Greengrass. Lending his ‘shaky cam’ to recreate in respectable fashion, the stifling tension of such tragic atrocities through the unnerving works that were ‘Bloody Sunday’ and ‘United 93’, the director steers another ‘ship’ carrying the cargo of a remarkable true story.
Fast-tracking viewers back to the year 2009, we are immediately greeted with Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), almost philosophical about the current state of the world he inhabits as he braces himself to leave his dear wife Andrea (Catherine Kenner). Ready to embrace his duties as Captain once more, Phillips’ latest ‘voyage’ of sorts revolves around boarding the American cargo ship of MV Maersk Alabama.
A journey which sees him and his twenty men strong crew work their way around the infamous outskirts of the Somali coast, in an admirable attempt to deliver aid to the less fortunate contingents of Africa, their collective good natures are soon thrown ‘overboard’. Vigorous followings of procedure to prevent such an occurrence all in vain, the ship is invaded by an intimidating quad of weapon-wielding Somali pirates, led by Barkhad Abdi’s skinny frame by the name of Muse. What begins as a simple hunger for a modest sum, soon escalates into a fierce ‘chess game’ as Captain Phillips puts his life on the line to protect the well-being of his crew.
‘Captain Phillips’ is essentially, an exercise in tension that will inevitably trigger the biting of nails and the sweating of palms, as well as being an impeccable showcase of the talents of its leading man and accomplished director. Navigating through the choppy exposition of its opening swiftly, Greengrass directs with a real sense of urgency, applying a thrilling and authentic trademark sheen to such worthy material.
Greengrass isn’t deterred in his attempts to tap into the mind-sets of what drives such a ferocious threat either, whilst creating a compelling dynamic between Hanks’ Phillips and Abdi’s Muse. The empathy of Phillips towards Muse’s current way of living as a fisherman, surviving on little and aspiring for more. The Captain’s dismay at the thankless inclusion of young Najee (Faysal Ahmed) to carry out such acts of terror. Often greeted with faceless villains providing little insight or backstory in such a type of filmmaking as the focus is lopsided towards the victims, the political commentary provided here is a welcome layer to the already masterful storytelling.
A time where he could have been accused of coasting on his A-list appeal, Tom Hanks shows us exactly why there are few better actors of his generation when on top form. His performance as Captain Richard Phillips here is simply stunning and arguably one of his career best. Whether it’s displaying the measured heroics of his character or conveying the anguish of such a tricky situation, Hanks’ portrayal never becomes overwrought. Almost stealing the show from such an esteemed figure, is Barkhad Abdi. As Muse, he proves to be a credible source of intensity and menace in an outstanding on-screen debut.
Blisteringly paced and exhaustingly tense complete with a heart-wrenching final shot ranking as one of the best of recent years, ‘Captain Phillips’ is as enthralling as it is harrowing.