I put off seeing Captain Phillips for a long time. From the previews and commercials, I joked that Tom Hanks was just fishing for a new Oscar. Even when the Oscar nominations came out, I was surprised and guessed the film depicting a recent big new story propelled it into best picture status. When I finally watched it, I was pleasantly surprised. The film became a fast paced, realistic thriller with a heart racing amount of tension.
The film is based on the true story of a 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates. Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is captain of the unarmed MV Maersk Alabama and runs a tight ship. Knowing the warnings for pirates in the area, he keeps his crew on their toes, running drills to make sure they are prepared. In the middle of a drill, two boats are spotted pursuing the ship and actions are taken to slow them down. It buys Phillips and his crew some time, but Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is a threatening adversary, and his crew are persistent. In a heart pounding scene with Phillips’ crew doing all they can, Muse and his armed men storm the ship.
Immediately, tensions tighten, Phillips has to think fast to help his crew and prevent any violence. A great amount of suspense is created as Phillips leads Muse and his men around the ship, trying to keep his crew informed without Muse knowing. When Muse has had enough, he and his men take Phillips hostage into a lifeboat, where they plan to take him back to Somalia. As Phillips tries to survive the cramped quarters with his captives, the Navy is on their way to save the captured captain.
The film reminded me of Greengrass’ previous Oscar nominated film, United 93. Both illustrated a hostage situation, didn’t shy away from the villains, utilized a realistic, almost documentary style of filming with hand-held cameras and the majority of the films take place in a cramped space. While I remember being very moved and terrified through United 93, I felt more curiously anxious during Captain Phillips. Though I know both films are based on true events, Captain Phillips felt more like a typical narrative with a main character I could find myself rooting and worrying for.
One aspect I was very impressed with was the photography within such a small space. The last half of the film takes place mostly within a small lifeboat, about the size of a large SUV. Inside are Phillips and the three Somali pirates. Though the air is obviously stifling for them, we do not feel so cramped. Somehow the filming here finds the right angles that we understand the space is small which makes the situation more tense, yet a sense of claustrophobia is avoided.
Captain Phillips is nominated for six Academy Awards. Among them are best film editing, sound editing, sound mixing, adapted screenplay and best picture. And in a wonderful surprise, rookie actor Barkhad Abdi has been nominated for best supporting actor. Somehow with the thick field, Tom Hanks was denied the Oscar nomination this film seemed destined to bring him.
All in all, Captain Phillips is a good film, especially for those who enjoy realistic, tense situations. It feels like it could have easily turned into a typical action movie, and I am very thankful it did not. Phillips’ story got the movie it deserved, one that the average audience can enjoy as well.
“You said you were a business man! Is this how you do business?”