Movies keep giving me reasons why I avoid boats and the sea. I don't like the water anyway. It messes with my cybernetics!
Captain Phillips is the true story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates back in 2009. Even though this only happened a few years ago, I was totally in the dark about it. I don't know if my ignorance was because of where it happened, or I just wasn't paying attention to the news at the time. Sometimes I can get wrapped up a little too much in my own world.
Shortly after leaving port en route to Kenya, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) runs a drill to prepare the crew, as this is a dangerous shipping lane known for pirate attacks. As if on cue, they pick up two skiffs on radar. The Maersk Alabama's crew is initially successful at fending off the pirates, but on a second attempt four pirates succeed in boarding. Captain Phillips orders the crew to hide and they are able to sabotage the ship and eventually overpower one of the pirates. Unable to control the ship, the pirates have no choice but to take the ship's lifeboat and flee. The crew attempts to exchange the captured pirate for the Captain, but the pirates double-cross them and escape with Captain Phillips.
Shortly after, the destroyer USS Bainbridge, under the command of Commander Frank Castellano (Yul Vazquez), is dispatched to catch up to the lifeboat and respond to the hostage situation. As things escalate and appear more dire, a Navy SEAL team is also sent in to aid in the rescue.
Captain Phillips is a massively intense movie, and the fact that I had no idea how it turned out made it that much more agonizing. There are several times when watching Captain Phillips where you genuinely aren't sure how he's going to get out of this situation. Prior knowledge of these events won't make this any less harrowing.
The screenplay by Billy Ray, which was based off the book "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea", by the actual Captain Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty, feels very authentic without sensationalizing the event. I've read that Richard Phillips felt the retelling of the events is accurate, and it's always nice to hear when the people involved feel their story's been done justice. Stories like this make you wonder if faced with the same situation would you have been as brave. It's easy to see these skinny-ass pirates and think, I could totally overpower them if I can catch them off guard.
One thing that surprised is that you actually feel sympathy for some of the pirates. The opening of the film gives you a look into the conditions they live in, and how many of these pirates are just kids that are forced to do this by local warlords. It's just how things are for them, and it kind of reminds me of when you see an otherwise good kid forced into a gang simply because he has no choice. Even though they are doing wrong, there's a part of them you feel for. It also helps they didn't kill anyone. I credit director Paul Greengrass for balancing the sympathy you may feel for the pirates with the heroism of Captain Phillips. Despite over two hours, it's briskly paced and doesn't waste any time. The score by Henry Jackman really drove the tension as well.
If there's anything I had a problem with, and it's the main reason why this isn't getting the full five Death Stars, it's the film's overuse of shaky cam. I get that it was used to simulate the motion of the ocean and immerse you in the situation, but I found it to be unnecessary and even distracting at times. I don't need help feeling seasick; let the movie do that on its own.
As you'd guess, Tom Hanks is great. You feel everything he goes though and even what's going through his mind. He kind of broke my heart a little at the end, and you just want to give him a big hug. After a bit of a downturn with some of his recent films, he's definitely back in the Oscar race with Captain Phillips. Just as surprising are the performances from the pirates, particularly Barkhad Abdi as Muse. All four have never acted before, which is impressive considering their performances, but it also makes them that much more terrifying because you don't know who they are.
Captain Phillips is an experience that may leave you feeling as exhausted as the Captain did by the end. It's an intense tale of real heroism, and also a reminder of a what a great actor Tom Hanks is. This is definitely one you don't want to miss.
4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars