The new film, "Captain Phillips," is a white-knuckle, nail-biter. That, in itself, is a considerable accomplishment given the fact that the audience is aware of the outcome. But this riveting film goes beyond heart-pounding by examining what leads human beings to commit horrific acts.
In April 2009, the cargo ship Maersk Alabama was attacked by Somali pirates. It was the first hijacking of an American merchant vessel in 200 years. The captain, Richard Phillips (played by Tom Hanks), was held hostage for five days with his captors in a 28-foot lifeboat. The desperation felt on the part of Phillips, as well as the pirates, is excruciating.
A deadly standoff ensues when U.S. Navy warships arrive on site. And when we learn a team of Navy Seals is on its way, it's certain that things are about to get tactical. Waiting for precisely the right moment to take out the pirates while sparing Phillips seems interminable. You almost have to remind yourself to breathe.
Director Paul Greengrass is no stranger to making films about people under extreme pressure, in dire circumstances. In "United 93," the true-life hijacking on 9/11 played out like a documentary. His use of a hand-held camera intensified the up-close and personal feel that the audience experienced. Once again he employs the same method of filming in confined spaces. The fear is overwhelming.
Greengrass also wanted to differentiate between terrorism and desperation in this film. He alludes to piracy being "organized crime ... having its roots, historically, in poverty." His choice of casting the Somali hijackers went to actual Somali immigrants who had never acted before. It was a brilliant move. Their performances seemed anything but.
Audiences always expect the best from Tom Hanks and will not be disappointed with his portrayal of the steadfast and heroic Captain Phillips. Hanks has that fantastic knack for making facial expressions speak louder than words. A sense of dread is ever-present in his eyes as the almost unbearable drama unfolds. This impeccable performance has Oscar written all over it.
Greengrass has once again constructed a film that grabs you by the jugular, rarely letting go. He also has the inarticulate ability to arouse American patriotism through acts of selflessness and camaraderie. And, frankly, we could all use a dose of both these days.
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