Starring in the title role of “Captain Phillips” Tom hanks will undoubtedly receive a well earned sixth nomination and possibly his third Oscar. For two hours he plays the Tom Hanks the audience knows and loves but in the last thirteen minutes tears your heart out as he once did in the AIDS movie “Philadelphia”.
“Captain Phillips” is based on a true story that made worldwide news headlines in 2009 when 4 Somali pirates boarded the huge maritime container ship the Maersk Alabama with Captain Richard Phillips in command of a crew of 20. The pirates are lead by Muse, played powerfully by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who should come in for a lot of mentions during award season, consisting of Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman) a 19 year old who has no idea what he is doing, Najee (Faysal Ahmed) seeing millions of dollars coming his way when he boards the ship and Elmi (Mahat M. Ali) perpetually frozen with fear. The four live in poverty, sometimes earning money as fishermen and all living on khat, a plant also known as jaad, that provides excitement and euphoria but most of all a loss of appetite that keeps them going for days keeping their mainly thin bodies on edge..
The first hour of the film sets up a cat and mouse game, mainly between the captain, crew and pirates, while the second half is the captain and the four pirates encased in an enclosed lifeboat and the attempt by Navy destroyers, helicopters and the Navy seals to rescue the captain without his being armed. This was a time when no one, captain, commercial ships or crew, carried arms of any kind so the pirates with their rifles and guns have the upper hand even against hundreds of men who want to get them.
The director, Paul Greengrass, and his cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, along with film editor Christopher Rouse make you feel the claustrophobia of the 5 men in the lifeboat and the power of the waves that an ocean can make.
As with most films today, except for the recent “Gravity”, this film, running at 2 hours and 14 minutes, is about 15 minutes too long with a few scenes that could easily been cut by the screenwriter Billy Ray which leisurely sets up the raid both by the pirates and the Navy.
The cast is uniformly fine but it is watching the two men, Abdi making his film debut, and the complete turnaround of stoic, upright Hanks, facing off on tight screenshots that makes this a worthwhile movie to see.