"You're not just a fisherman! You're not just a fisherman!"
Captain Phillips is a thriller that had me at the edge of my seat for most of the film. However, this isn't your usual hostage film as it follows a very different formula thanks to Paul Greengrass's multilayered direction. I've spoken to different people about what they thought of the film and everyone seems to have a different interpretation or a different vision of the film. That is what a great film does: it speaks to us in different ways and somehow everyone takes something out of it. For example that line where Hanks's character confronts one of the pirates telling him he's not just a fisherman: for some what he was saying is that he can't just justify his actions and that he was just a purely evil man, but others (and I find myself on this side) tend to think that what he was really telling the pirate is that he has so much potential as a leader and he shouldn't just settle to following orders. He could be so much more than a fisherman or a pirate, and that he shouldn't let his surroundings influence him in such a negative way. After all, Greengrass is sending an underlying message about the effects of globalization. Captain Phillips strength lies in this struggle for control between Hanks and his captor, and the dynamics between these two is what makes the movie standout. Despite all this, the greatest moment for me were the final 15 minutes of the film where Greengrass lets Tom Hanks deliver one of his best performances in years. That last scene is what makes this film stand out and breaks the classic formula we've seen before in other hostage films. I don't want to give it away so I will just say that it was a very powerful and emotional moment and one that you never see in these hostage thrillers. My only complaint about this film, and the reason it won't get a full 5 stars from me, is that the first 10 minutes felt awkward and completely unnecessary with some poor dialogues, but from there on the film really picks up and had me completely engaged for the remainder of the movie despite a few minor pacing issues here or there. I had no issues with the shaky handheld camera which Greengrass has used in all his films (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93, and Green Zone), and I thought it actually contributed to the sense of claustrophobia during the lifeboat scenes. This is an intense and smart biopic about a recent event that many people were already familiar with, but once again Greengrass managed to deliver the suspense and tension throughout.
The screenplay was adapted by Billy Ray (Breach, State of Play, and The Hunger Games) from Ryan Phillips's autobiographical book about the events that took place in 2009 when his container ship was hijacked by some Somali pirates. Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) was on board the Maersk Alabama container ship along with his crew when all of a sudden a group of somali pirates, led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) take him hostage. Phillips buys enough time for his crew to hide in the Engine room while Muse and his three men: Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman), Najee (Faysal Ahmed), and Elmi (Mahat M. Ali) try to take control of the situation. Muse tells Phillips that from now on he is the captain of the ship and if they do what he says no one will get hurt. While the crew remains hidden some unexpected situations take place putting everyone's life in danger. Among the crew members in the Maersk Alabama are Shane (Michael Chernus), Mike (David Warshofsky), John (Chris Mulkey), and Ken (Corey Johnson) who try to keep everyone in safety by following protocol.
The Somali pirates were actually played by first time Somali actors who really did a great job, especially Barkhad Abdi who plays off of Tom Hanks really well. The struggle for power over the control of the vessel between these two men is one of the highlights of the film. I would go as far as to say that Abdi's performance was more impressive than Hanks's, but in the last 15 minutes Hanks proves why he is one of the best actors in the world with a remarkable performance. I think he was downplaying his dramatic role throughout the entire film so that when that moment came it would be even more powerful. I liked the way he was portrayed as an ordinary guy (and we really didn't need that opening scene to establish that because the way he related to his crew members was sufficient enough to see it) who tried to do his best to survive in such a dangerous situation and avoid putting the lives of his men at risk. He makes some mistakes like any other human might make in this situation and his life is ultimately dependent on others (in this case the Navy SEALS). Everything gets out of control and these men who struggled for power and control for so long end up depending on the actions of others. I also liked the way that Greengrass portrayed the pirates here not demonizing them, but not making them look like victims either. This is a real life story and pirate activity in Somalia exists because it is an apparently easy way of making money and in the opinions of a few the only way. That is sort of the political parable I got from this intelligent thriller that is still a great film even though you don't get the underlying message or any interpretation whatsoever. You can enjoy this film as simply an entertaining and tense thriller or you can also try to read the different messages Greengrass is laying out there for the audience to interpret. For me it stands out basically because of Tom Hanks dramatic and perfect performance. His last scene is one of the best performances I've seen.