Realistic, strictly dramatized true events of a hijacking and hostage situation. Captain Phillips is by the jittery handheld camera of Paul Greengrass (“United 93,” two Bourne movies), and since the entire movie is about a stand-off at sea, the shaky and wobbly camera feels just right. Tom Hanks is the title character Richard Phillips and eventual hostage of Somali pirates (the band of them non-actors, and frighteningly natural), who came aboard a U.S. cargo ship, were offered $30,000 to leave, but demanded millions! There’s enough ambiguity to make you think these pirates don’t even know how much $30,000 is. Phillips is painted a hero for sacrificing himself for the safety of his crew.
Greengrass uses his 134 minute running time not to cram in bountiful information, but to draw out elongated suspense. We do feel the exhaustion, even dehydration, of Phillips in the last hour, after he’s been taken aboard a slow driving roof-shelled lifeboat by four pirates who become surrounded by intercepting military ships. The leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) wants Phillips alive until he can negotiate millions in ransom, and while he respects his hostage, he’s not very compassionate in keeping him healthy. Muse and his band of outlaws are also constantly wary of being “tricked.” We are riveted by the spontaneity of the raw unfolding events of the film, which has a similar quasi-documentary feel reminiscent of “Black Hawk Down” and Greengrass’ own “United 93.” Not much feels trumped up or bogus by Greengrass, who in his body of work proves to honor true events as they really were.
I was charged up by Greengrass’ direction, Hanks’ depths of humility, and the human desperation for fraught Somalis whose entire lives have revolved around violence and pittance of community suffering. Yet something made me feel I never wanted to watch this film a second time. Most films are only good enough once anyway. But even though I felt it was being truthfully told, there was something just organically frustrating paying witness to this. There’s a scene in the film when Hanks could have gotten away to rescue, but U.S. forces are depicted as too non spur-of-the-moment and unready for impromptu circumstances to go for the intervention. Frustrating indeed. But effective as true life drama.
134 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SUSPENSEFUL DRAMA / TRUE STORY / AFTER SCHOOL HISTORY
Film Cousins: “Black Hawk Down” (2001); “United 93” (2006); “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012); “A Hijacking” (2013, Denmark).