Review: Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2013) – An American cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates in this true story dramatisation of the ordeal faced by Captain Phillips and his crew.

Verdict

A powerful leading performance makes Captain Phillips a rare triumph in emotional depth and riveting intensity.

4/5

Review

Captain Phillips tells the true story of an American cargo ship left stranded at sea, when its unarmed crew suffered the ordeal of a fusillade with Somali pirates. In one scene, the titular hostage dogmatically asserted alternatives to being a fisherman or a kidnapper.

To that, the Somalian pirate simply said, “Maybe in America.”

Curt and striking, his answer opposes the narrow dichotomy of criminal and victim. While it is easy to name the man with the gun as a villain, things are not always black and white. Captain Phillips takes on the tough challenge of leaving aside labels. Instead, the real-case dramatisation explores the rarely seen circumstances that drive the men to crime.

Tom Hanks is his usual best as everyman captain Richard Phillips, heroically protecting his crew (even if history tells a less embellished story). Throughout the tense minutes, his ambivalence of fear and sympathy towards his captors was palpable.

It is however the band of newcomers who make a bigger splash as the pirates. Barkhad Abdi and company deliver an honest display of internal turmoil throughout the ordeal. Uncertainty persists as they begin to question if the only thing they can do is the right thing to do. Their initial intimidating façade sheds with each little reveal of their emotional strife within. Every portrayal feels genuine and no doubt, unforgettable.

Captain Phillips
Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment / Jasin Boland

These strong lead performances lend poignancy to the concluding minutes. Emotions are not as simple as relief. Something much more complex leaves a lingering note.

Muse: Last year I took a Greek ship. 6 million dollars.

Captain Phillips: 6 million dollars? So what are you doing here?

Such a powerful close testifies to how well Captain Phillips is well-written. The movie never once sees the pirates as villainous caricatures. Rather, these are sympathetic victims between a rock and a hard place beyond their control. These are people forced to lead dangerous lives of crime, if only to survive. It makes one ponder about the plight of the poor trapped in an endless cycle of poverty.

Add to that the touch of director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Identity, The Green Zone), who knows to craft thrills like no other. The result is almost perfect. Tension hardly ever lifts throughout the enduring crisis. Raw authenticity captivates up to the harrowing and thought-provoking aftermath.

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