Director Paul Greengrass is a man who clearly has an eye for bringing us re-enactments of some of the sadder moments from our recent past. Starting with "Bloody Sunday" and following up with the riveting "United 93", his films of this nature are closer to documentaries than dramas, which is far more fitting a tribute to the participants of the original tragedies. And so this style continues with "Captain Phillips", based on the true events of a cargo ship captain who was taken hostage in 2009.
Tom Hanks plays the titular Captain Richard Phillips, an everyman from Massachusetts, who flies to Oman to lead the crew of the Maersk Alabama on what should have been a regular route around the Horn of Africa down to Mombasa, Kenya. Piracy warnings turn out to be accurate as a band of ragtag Somalis storm the vessel and the battle for survival commences. The trailer doesn't cover more than what I've just mentioned, and nor will I as to do so would be a dis-service to what plays out as an excellently tense thriller.
Hanks and his on-screen wife Catherine Keener are the only major actors you'll recognize in this, and the film is stronger because of it. The Somalis in particular are played by first time actors, found in various refugee settlements in the UK and US. Barkhad Abdi plays the captain of one of the pirate boats and is outstanding - I don't think I've seen a debut performance as real and un-nerving as his in a long time.
The US Navy play a large part as you would expect, but their involvement is looming and professional - a far cry from the overbearing cowboys that they are often portrayed as. Even when the SEALs are called in, what could have easily turned into a game of who can crack the best one liner was done in such a way that for once you wouldn't want to have their job, even for a few minutes, and not many films can say they're achieved that.
The ending is in keeping with the tone setup throughout the rest of the film, and while you may already know the story from the original coverage, you come away with a far greater sense of understanding than any 3 minute news reel could ever portray. They say that many hostages suffer from Stockholm Syndrome - where they feel sympathy for their kidnappers. Having watched this, I felt the same and that speak volumes for what Greengrass has achieved.
By Marc Burrage. Follow Marc on Twitter.