Based off of the real life incident in which a group of Somali pirates attempts to take over a commercial cargo ship, the film focuses on the battle between both crews’ captains as they try and get what’s best for their people. It’s exciting to watch Hanks’ Phillips and Barkhad Abdi’s Muse match wits as they navigate Phillips’ ship and the tension is often fantastic throughout the film.
The film works best when the pirates are on Phillips ship and the story is a cat and mouse game as the crews of each ship try and outsmart one another. Hanks and Abdi play wonderfully off each other and watching Phillips’ crew run around behind the scenes is a lot of fun. This was the part of the film where I forgot my knowledge of the real life incident and got swept up in Paul Greengrass’ fantastic pacing and tension. There is an urgency to these scenes as both sides have been sprinkled with wild cards and tension between themselves that plays out in unexpected ways. Sure it would have been nice to have gotten to know a couple of these crew members a bit more, but the peril is so well executed you easily forgive that. The dynamic between the four Somali pirates is much more fleshed out and this is necessary as they are a part of the film for much longer than Captain Phillips’ crew.
As strong as the dynamic is between the pirates, the back end of the film doesn’t work as well as the aforementioned scenes. The contained setting of the last segment of the film quickly becomes repetitive and instead of digging deeper into the characters’ motivations we just have Phillips and Muse going around in circles for days on end. Greengrass’ pacing from earlier in the film is also lost as the tension stops feeling natural and instead feels labored and forced. I know it is a true story, but Greengrass almost feels like a slave to every minute detail and I was constantly wondering why I need to see every little thing that is happening behind the scenes. There are a couple of good moments late in the film, Phillips’ escape attempt in particular, but once they get in the lifeboat the film never again reaches the heights that came before it.
Actually, that is a lie. **Quick Spoiler** The final scene of the film is incredible and all it involves is Captain Phillips getting a medical exam. Tom Hanks is so incredible at this moment as he has to play a man in shock and it might be some of the most impressive acting of his career. I don’t know how he did it, if you didn’t know you were watching Tom Hanks you would assume this is a guy going through legitimate shock. The other acting standout of the film is Barkhad Abdi, but I do wish he got more to do and a deeper character. His message gets repetitive, and that is the script’s fault, but there is something about Abdi that feels untapped by the end of the film. The looks Abdi gives Hanks are incredible and he goes toe to toe with one of the best actors around. It’s a shame the script didn’t give Abdi more to do.
Captain Phillips has some excellent highs, but also comparatively flounders on its way to the finish line. Hanks is great, as is his opposing captain Abdi, and the film is onto something as the film mirrors these two’s stories, I just wish they were able to follow it through to the end. Captain Phillips is still well worth your time at the theater, but I was left feeling like it missed out on being something even greater.
Captain Phillips is a B+