FlixChatter Review: Captain Phillips

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I’ve been seeing quite a bit of biopic feature films this past year but obviously not all are created equal. I think the BOATS (based-on-a-true-story) sub-genre is best handled when it focuses on a certain period of time and this is a great example of one. The title refers to Captain Richard Phillips, based on his book A Captain’s Duty which detaills his harrowing ordeal aboard cargo ship Maersk Alabama that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.

The film didn’t spend much time on land, there’s perhaps only 10 minutes or so of exposition as the Captain was leaving to the airport with his wife. In the car they talk about their children and that they’re growing up in very different worlds from theirs. It shows that Phillips is just a regular family man who has the same worries as everybody else, and it’s just another day heading to work for the experienced mariner. Then the film contrast that scene with life in a coastal village in Somalia. A young, skinny Somali man is awaken by the ruckus outside his tiny hut of a home, it turns out the mercenaries are upset that the villagers haven’t gotten them any goods for their boss. That young man is Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), and soon he gathers his team to go out to sea in search of a ship to hijack. It’s an intriguing slice of life of a community that’s rarely portrayed in film or the media, which actually paints these teenage pirates as destitute and desperate people who think they have no other way to make a living.

UK Director Paul Greengrass is no stranger to making an effective thriller, both fictional and non-fiction, but this one is perhaps one of the most gripping thriller I’ve ever witnessed. Right from the time the ship departs its port on its way to Mombasa, Kenya, there’s an eerie feeling that something bad is about to happen. Now, of course we know the horror that lies for the crew of 20 aboard Maersk Alabama, but it doesn’t lessen the sense of dread. Tension keeps mounting from the time the two skiffs show up on the radar and it never lets up until the end.

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The brilliant script by Billy Ray highlights the relationship between Phillips and the pirates leader Muse. He amusingly calls Muse ‘Irish’ after he tells him he’s of Irish-American origin. Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi couldn’t have a more different acting background, but both of them give such a tour-de-force performance. Abdi was plucked from obscurity when he won the role amongst 700 applicants in a casting call in Minneapolis, yet the Somali actor has the chops to goes toe-to-toe with the two-timed Oscar winner on his first feature film role ever. I like the fact that this film gives a layer of complexity to his character, not simply painting him as a one-dimensional devil incarnate but a desperate individual who’s in over his head and nowhere else to go. The other pirates, as well as the Maersk Alabama crew (notably Michael Chernus as Phillips’ first mate) also give a decent supporting role.

As for the main name on the marquee, Hanks puts forward one of his best roles in recent memory. It’s a raw and emotional performance but not without his reliable charm and wit. The third of the film when Phillips was being held hostage in a tiny lifeboat made me feel claustrophobic and I felt my palms getting sweaty during the negotiations scenes. It was at times way too intense for my comfort level, but it was worth seeing Hanks’ in one of the finest acting I’ve seen all year. He captures the human psyche of a man in his darkest hour. Even with all the courage he could muster, it’s obvious Phillips’ mental state is quickly in disarray and it was quite an experience to watch such a convincing, nuanced depiction.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hanks name in the Oscar’s Best Actor roster once again, as well as the talents behind the taut, cerebral thriller. I applaud Paul Greengrass‘ work here, his kinetic style makes me feel like I’m part of the action without rendering me dizzy. He employs some shaky-cam style but he does it well that it doesn’t make the experience unbearable. With the help of an astute script by Billy Ray‘s, meticulous cinematography by Barry Ackroyd and atmospheric score by Henry Jackman, this film offers us a lot more than just dynamic action. It’s interesting to note that Greengrass also work with real life (retired) SEALS for the rescue scenes, as well as the nurse towards the end. Those who have seen the film might enjoy this article.

So if you like your thrillers nail-biting, with white-knuckle tension and fine character study thrown in, then don’t miss seeing this one on the big screen.


4.5 out of 5 reels

What do you think of this film? I’d love to hear it!

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54 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Captain Phillips

  1. Sounds so intense! I’ve heard only good things (for the most part). I should be seeing it on Tuesday! Glad to hear Abdi delivers. He was what had me the most curious about it, actually.

    1. Hi Nick! Yes VERY intense indeed, esp for me w/ feeble nerves ahah. Abdi is REALLY good, amazing that it’s his first ever role in ANY project, well done!

  2. You’re spot on that BOATS movies definitely work best when they focus on a specific aspect, and this movie certainly gets that right (not to mention the acronym is more than fitting, lol!). Definitely a really good movie, with some awesome performances. Nice review! πŸ™‚

    1. Ahah I just realized that after I typed it, very fitting acronym indeed πŸ˜€ Just saw your review, there are indeed some great quotes from this.

  3. Ted S.

    Nice review Ruth, I’ll probably give it a rent when it’s out on Bluray. As you know, I always have reservations with films based on real life events. Also, it’s been a while since I saw a film from either Greengrass or Hanks. The last Greengrass’s film I saw was Green Zone, which I despise. And the last film I saw of Hanks was Angels & Demons and I didn’t care for that one.

      1. Ted S.

        Considering it wasn’t a box office hit like they thought it would be, I’d say not too many people care about it. LOL.

    1. Well good thing I skipped those two films Ted, no interest in seeing ’em anyway. This one is worth a watch for sure, strong work from everyone involved.

  4. This was simply a terrific film. Yes we all knew that Phillips survived and penned a book about his ordeal, but as Ruth so effectiively pointed out – this is not a factor as it plays out before your eyes..

    As an additional point of reference, I saw this in an IMAX theater, and it added immensely to the enjoyment – the huge screen and the music just pulls you in. Really this is just a superb film.

    Thanks Ruth for a sparkling review.

    1. Hi Mike! Glad to hear you like this too. Just saw your review but since I couldn’t comment, I’m glad we’re on the same page. That quote ‘Look at me, look at me! I am the Captain now.’ gives me chills!

      Wow, I think I might pass out if I see this on the IMAX, it’s way too intense even in regular theater.

  5. Emotionally gripping from start to finish. That’s the way I like to see my real-life thrillers done, without all of the manipulations added in. Looking at you, Argo. Good review Ruth.

  6. I’ve been reading good reports about this one Ruth, and you have delivered an on-point examination of what is sure to be another Greengrass classic. Honestly, I’d never even heard of this story until I saw the trailer to this film (I browse news sites all day, how did I miss this?) – that being said, there’s a lot of background chatter to the accuracy and particular slant given to Phillips’ actual intent and worthiness as a sea captain, so I take what I hear (in every aspect) about this story with a grain of salt.

    Regardless, however, as long as Captain Phillips is a good STORY, first and foremost, I’ll leave the accuracy hounds to their own devices. Have you seen Bloody Sunday yet Ruth? That’s a riveting Greengrass film (his first major feature, if memory serves).

    1. Y’know, I’ve only heard about it in passing but never knew the details of the hijacking either Rodney. Yep I heard about the crews crying foul about the accuracy of the story but that is beside the point. Even if it’s a fictional biopic it’s still a well-done film I think. And yes I think the story is intriguing and it was done VERY well.

      No I haven’t seen Bloody Sunday but I’d have to give that a look.

      1. Ted S.

        I love Bloody Sunday, to me it’s still Greengrass’s best film. But just a warning though Ruth, it’s pretty intense and it felt so real too the way he shot the movie.

  7. Really looking forward to this one Ruth and your review has me even more excited. Gonna be checking this out when it hits next week. Sounds like Hanks has got another good film under his belt here. He always pulls one out of the bag just when he hasn’t really done an awful lot for a while.

    1. Hi Chris! I’ve always liked Hanks but there are some films of his I don’t care for. Glad this one truly deserves his acting prowess and he still manages to inject some wit into the character too.

  8. Wonderful to hear Tom Hanks has another strong film. I admire him, out of his extensive career, he has had more hits than misses in my opinion. Some of them truly great films. Looking forward to this and also the soon to be released Saving Mr. Banks.

    1. Hi Asrap! Yeah I admire him too, it’s rare to see such a great actor who’s down to earth and seems *normal* y’know. Yeah I’m looking forward to Saving Mr Banks too, that’s more right up my alley!

    1. I don’t always agree w/ critics but w/ Gravity and this one I wholeheartedly agree w/ the Rotten Tomatoes score πŸ˜€ Hope you like this as much as I did.

      1. I’m not a huge fan of cinemas. Expensive, quite a drive to my nearest one. And people chat/use phones/graze food! So Ill wait for blu ray πŸ™‚

        However…..I am going to see The Shining on the big screen on Halloween, my local art cinema showing it so am very excited to see that on the big screen! And yes, the baby preparation is taking all my spare time! Just 4 weeks to go πŸ™‚

        1. I hear ya Tyson, I wish I could buy my very own cinema one day but until then I have to tolerate it as I do enjoy those press screenings πŸ˜€

          WOW, just 4 weeks to go! God’s blessings to you on all the prep work, Tyson, and for your wife and baby as well of course.

  9. Terrific review Ruth. I loved this one too (4.5/5)! Hanks, Abdi and the other actors did a great job under Greengrass and his production team. I hope this gets multiple Oscar nominations. πŸ™‚

        1. Hey no worries, I know I have tons of catching up to do as well. And don’t get me started about TV, I hardly have any time left for that 😦

    1. Hi Mark! Hey I’d love to see McAvoy getting a nom even though I haven’t seen Filth. He’s a consistent performer and Hanks already has 2 Oscars πŸ˜‰

  10. Good review Ruth! It’s good that you liked it. I’ve loved Greengrass since I saw United 93. He actually was the only director who managed to make 9/11 huge dramatic experience for every viewer.

    As for Captain Phillips, I’ve not seen it yet, but I got huge hopes for Hanks lead win. He’s my favorite actor of all time πŸ˜€

    1. Hi Nika! If you like Greengrass’ style and Hanks as an actor then you should MUST see this on the big screen. It’s a great work from both of them.

  11. Nice review! I enjoyed Greengrass’ Bourne movies and love white knuckle thrillers. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a Tom Hanks movie, good to hear his of stellar performance.

  12. Great review! I’ll wait for DVD to see this one, I saw a trailer for it before Gravity and Hanks looks great in it, but I’m not that big of a fan of Greengrass.

  13. Possibly the best of the year. I adored this film. I think it just might be Hanks best performance ever because I didn’t see Tom hanks the actor, I saw Captain Phillips. Great review!

    1. Hi there Mark! Yeah I was very impressed w/ Hanks here, it’s amazing how he could embody a character so well but still keep his sense of wit. Glad you love this too!

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