REVIEW: Captain Phillips

It’s always worrying to see an exciting and exhilarating trailer for a film; it generally means the actual film itself is usually a let down and they have thrown all the good scenes in the trailer just to attract an audience. But with the biographical action thriller “Captain Phillips”, starring Tom Hanks, the trailer is only a brief teaser to what is an incredible piece of film-making.

Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, a merchant mariner who must sail his cargo ship safely through African waters that are notorious for pirates. Not long in the journey, his ship is targeted and hijacked by Somali pirates; leaving Phillips to protect his crew and ship.

Unusually with this sort of film, we don’t get much of Phillips’ back story. The first half hour of any film based on a true story usually tells us everything about the main character in pain staking detail, so that we can “empathise” and “connect” with them. However, we don’t need to know a lot about Phillips. He himself is not interesting, what happened to him is.

With this film, the action explodes onto the screen pretty early on; one thrilling moment followed by another. The script and editing are so tight that there was no part that was unnecessary or a time filler.

Casting was always going to be important in this film, and boy they got it right. Barkhard Abdi excels as Muse, the leader of the pirate gang; managing to convey an absolutely disturbing, intimidating performance that you can’t help but fear. He has great support from Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali, who also portray the desperation and heartlessness of the pirates to perfection.

However, the film is not merely just an attack on the Somali pirates showing them to be mercenaries. The fourth pirate Bilal, played by Barkhad Abdirahman, is shown to be just a boy, forced into this world of piracy because of his need to make money. He and Phillips develop a relationship of mutual respect throughout the film, and it is clear that Bilal is not like the others.

A sense of empathy with the pirates is also developed towards the end, when Phillips says to Muse, “There’s gotta be something other than kidnapping people”, to which Muse replies, “maybe in America”.

Paul Greengrass’s direction is immense and he succeeds in creating a constant tension throughout the entire film. There was a genuine unease and a sinister undertone that will leave you feeling exhausted by the end.

As for Tom Hanks’ performance, it would not be surprising if he gets an Oscar nomination. His portrayal of a strong and tough man experiencing the terror of being taken hostage was one of the strongest performances of his career.

The final scene of the film has to be the most powerful and striking snapshots of human emotion. I’m not one to cry, but he did manage to get a few tears from the ice queen. Well done Tom Hanks, they were tears well earned.

Suzanne Cooper

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