image: Michael de Luca Productions
Before I watched Captain Phillips, I was worried it would be the usual one-sided Hollywood portrayal of American triumph and endeavour in the face of adversity. Within the first ten minutes of the film, though, I realised there was no cause for concern: not only does director Paul Greengrass treat the Somalian pirates that form a core part of the film as unique characters, he provides them with human qualities usually denied to movie antagonists. The unpredictability of the pirates, the attempts made to portray the desperation they face and the magnificent performances of the actors – in particular Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse, the leader – lend a superb realism and authenticity to the biopic that persists throughout and hammers home the fact that Captain Phillips is based on a true story.
Of course, a biographical film based on a true story is nothing without a powerful performance from the lead actor, and here Tom Hanks delivers another Oscar-worthy performance as Captain Richard Phillips, the merchant mariner whose ship was the first ever to be held hostage by Somalian pirates in April 2009. As Phillips goes through the experience his demeanour transforms, the authoritative captain eventually reduced to passionate, tearful yells for his family. Hanks tackles this transition with ease, perfectly articulating the emotions and desperations of his experience as the film goes on. The viewer is placed directly into the captain’s emotional core, and the feelings elicited as you watch are nothing short of spectacular.
Such a successful performance would be nothing without the script, soundtrack and cinematography to match its actors, however. Thankfully, the film is excellently executed in all of these aspects: writer Billy Ray provides us with a convincing and realistic dialogue which, coupled with the documentary-based background of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, reinforces the truth behind the story. Henry Jackman’s subtle and moving score underpins the film, moving from moments of tension to climactic silence in a way that brings home the terror and frenzy of a hostage situation.
As a whole, Captain Phillips is a massive success – the story, acting, production and direction all combined to produce a film of superb quality. This isn’t to say the film is without its drawbacks – midway through the film, the pace did become rather too slow – but this isn’t enough to make it anything less than brilliant.