Review: Captain Phillips

Expert director Paul Greengrass turns this true story of Somali pirates hijacking a freighter into an intense thriller.

Family man Richard Phillips and his crew have the treacherous task of delivering a freighter of goods through the Somali basin, host of multiple pirate organisations. When they are boarded after their merger defenses were not enough, Phillips must juggle a life or death scenario, a morally grey trade of ideals with the pirate’s leader Muse, that escalates beyond the control of both men…

It is a great shame that I missed seeing Captain Phillips in the cinema, while it did not walk away with any Oscars it was still nominated for six, including Best Picture. The  BAFTAs gave their award for Best Supporting Actor to Barkhad Abdi, who played the Somali pirate Muse, and rightfully so; his debut and only feature film to date (bar one, Eye in the Sky in the same year) and he is excellent. To be up against America’s golden boy Tom Hanks and be the one leaving with the film’s most prestigious award is nothing short of impressive.

The film has two great acts: the initial attack on the freighter were we see Phillips’ forward thinking and ingenuity under pressure, followed by a very tense and shadowy cat and mouse game throughout the ship’s interior. Paul Greengrass delivers everything with his eye for realism, never overplaying anything but providing information quietly and with intensity. The second act is perhaps the most dynamic.
I did not know the full details of the event, although I do remember it on the News at the time in 2009, to the conclusion was clear to me. Yet, the film ramps the tension over and over; just when you think the game is over, it pulls the rug from out of your feet! We see that both opposing forces involved are incredibly lost, and the weight of the world is bearing down on a tiny speck of open water.

So the pacing is excellent, and the focus is incredibly tight on this ship and only two to five characters (at best). There are no cutaways to the mainland, no frantic News reports or emotional family members, but there is a definite sense that this event we are seeing has global attention.

I could argue that the camerawork was a little shaky, but considering this is action in very close quarters and so frantic visuals work to the film’s betterment.

If you are like me and haven’t yet watched Captain Phillips, I would highly recommend it. A taut and gripping thriller set at sea were you can only watch, at the edge of your seat, for the very end of the story…



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