The East coast of Africa is dangerous place for shipping vessels to sail through as the waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans are home to a number of African pirates who hijack ships and demand huge sums of money from the businesses or governments of the respective ships. Hijackings are frequent enough to be a concern and the ship MV Maersk Alabama, captained by Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), is unlucky enough to fall victim to an act of piracy whilst travelling from the Port of Salalah in Oman to Mombassa in Kenya.
The film that Captain Phillips can easily be compared to is the Danish film Kapringen (A Hijacking) which was also released in the same year and involves a hijacking of a ship by Somali pirates. The two films, however, take a different route in examining the hijacking of a vessel. Kapringen is more about the negotiation for the crews’ safety and the affect that a hijacking has on those at home whilst the majority of Captain Phillips takes place on a containership. Both films excel excellently in similar and different ways, especially in sustaining tension.
Captain Phillips is directed by Paul Greengrass and thus is in the very capable hands of a highly respected action film director, his films such as United 93 and Bourne Franchise are among the most popular of modern action films. Captain Phillips is another superb piece of action movie making as Greengrass brilliantly manages to create genuine tension from the offset as the foreboding threat of imminent attack from Somalian pirates has one eying the seas nervously, looking for signs of threat as they unconsciously tap the ground with their foot.
One the main ills of Greengrass’ work has been the overly frantic nature of his films, in particular the editing which always seemed to be as choppy as the roughest seas, but whilst Captain Phillips is unnecessarily choppy in the early stages of the film, the frantic nature of editing that often accompanies Greengrass’ films is dialed down a touch. Despite this, however, due to the film’s heart, as strong as United 93, and tense and thrilling nature Captain Phillips is up there with the best of Paul Greengrass’ work.
Where the film also greatly excels is the face off between the two ships’ respective captains, Richard Philips and Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi). The threat of possible implosion from Muse is countered by Phillips’ constant attempts to calm him and his fellow pirates, this is where much of the tension lies, one small mistake would ignite and already tense situation.
However, it seems that Muse is the most calm and measured of the group of invading pirates who are not simply one dimensional villains. Tom Hanks is great as Captain Phillips but the limelight is grabbed spectacularly by Barkhad Abdi. A complete unknown, Barkhad Abdi almost acts Hanks off the screen as he gives a performance as great as 12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong'o, who is also a newcomer
After the lukewarm reception to Greenzone, Captain Phillips marks a return to form for director Paul Greengrass.