By Rob Cox
---- — FROM THE DEN AT WOLF THEATRES — If I was forced to describe “Captain Phillips” in one word, I’d choose “intense.”
Director Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy”) brings his considerable skill for creating tense, tightly-shot action flicks to this true-life story about the hijacking of an American container ship off the coast of Somalia in 2009.
Many readers will remember the actual events upon which the film is based: Four Somali pirates got aboard The Maersk Alabama, but found the crew more difficult to manage than anticipated. The hijackers are ultimately driven from the ship, but manage to pull Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) into the ship’s lifeboat as they escape, hoping to ransom him for millions.
In its style, pacing and use of tight, claustrophobic camera work and action sequences, “Phillips” is unmistakably Greengrass’ film. As he does with most of his work, the director does a terrific job of creating tension, of generating a vicarious sense of what it might be like to be trapped aboard Alabama with her crew.
Of course, skillful direction alone does not a great film make, and indeed, if “Phillips” is clearly Greengrass’ directorial triumph, it belongs completely to Hanks from a performance perspective.
Hanks has been in something of a slump in recent years (as much of a slump as an international, multiple-award-winning superstar can fall into), with his reputation for box-office bankability taking a minor hit. His performance here should reinvigorate his career; I certainly expect to see him nominated for a multiple awards.
He does a masterful job of transitioning between and conveying Phillips’ complex array of emotions as he maneuvers and deals with lead hijacker Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and his pirate gang. Phillips isn’t a military man and he’s not qualified to deal with such thugs, but deal with them he does, working surreptitiously with his crew to drive them from the ship.
Of course, becoming a lone hostage aboard the lifeboat likely doesn’t factor into Phillips’ scheme, but neither does he flinch when it’s the only way to force the pirates off the ship. Phillips’ time in the lifeboat with the pirates, drifting toward Somalia while the US Navy moves to intercept, is where Greengrass and Hanks ratchet up their games. Phillips is at first courageous in the face of untenable circumstances, trying to reason with and even manipulate his kidnappers. As the situation becomes progressively more explosive, however, Phillips’ courage slowly melts, yielding to greater levels of fear, until he ultimately descends into heart-stopping panic.
Hanks’ performance in the lifeboat is subtle, intense and works perfectly with Greengrass’ directorial style in maintaining suspense. I continually found myself wondering: What’s he going to do next? What’s he planning?
Abdi and his fellow pirates also do solid jobs conveying the motives and personalities of the pirates, making them far more real and human than I would’ve guessed coming into the film. These characters are far from the atypical Hollywood-type villains one might expect from such a film.
Of course, the evildoers’ humanity also owes largely to Billy Ray’s (“The Hunger Games”) script. With previous scripts, Ray has shown both a preference and a talent for character development and a slow build of tension. “Phillips” is no different, and the slow-build compliments Greengrass’ explosive, suffocating style and camera work very well.
Again, though, I return to Hanks. He gives the kind of performance here that makes those around him better, and the audience is the ultimate winner for it. “Captain Phillips” is worth the price of admission for his performance alone.
Rating: Lone-wolf howl
Runtime: 134 minutes
Rated R for language, sexuality and intense, gory violence; not suitable for the pups
Rating System Explained: Rabies = 0; Yip = *; Bark = **; Howl = ***; Lone-wolf howl = ****; Leader of the pack = *****
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011