Wow. What a movie. I’m still breathless after the Cinema Society screening this morning. When people talk about a movie being an “edge-of-your-seat thriller,” they’re talking about “Captain Phillips.” It’s rare when I don’t have at least one nitpicky thing to say about a movie, but not this time. And most amazing of all is that it’s based on a true story as told in the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty.
Just as British director Paul Greengrass did with “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “United 93,” he uses almost a documentary style to tell the story of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. Captain Phillips, played by Tom Hanks, is a devoted family man from Vermont who captains a container ship bound for treacherous waters near Somalia. En route to his destination, an armed band of young Somali men, working for their “elders” and hungry for what they believe will be millions in ransom, charge onto the ship, ultimately take Phillips hostage in a tiny lifeboat and attempt to stave off the American navy dispatched to rescue the captain. The rescue operation is heart-stopping, but so is the relationship/test of wills between Phillips and Muse, his Somali counterpart, a wild-eyed, emaciated man-boy.
The movie has so many layers, both human and geo-political, and Hanks is absolutely superb. At first I thought he’d be playing yet another Everyman, but his stoicism gives way to such a visceral fear that I couldn’t help reaching for the tissues. There will be a lot of competition in his category this year, but he gets an Oscar nomination for sure.
There was a Q&A with Greengrass after the screening, followed by a reception for him. I spent time with him and he couldn’t have been more accessible. When I asked, for example, if a director who specializes in global thrillers ever watches comedies, he said, “Oh yeah! I love the ones with Will Ferrill. He’s hilarious.”