Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks: Cloud Atlas) worries about the future. In 2009, with the country facing more years of economic downturn, the freighter captain is concerned about how his kids will manage in this new, leaner America. But he’s still got a job, and it takes him from his home in Massachusetts to Oman for a routine delivery on the Maersk Alabama.
In Somalia, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) also worries about the future. Local warlords are demanding big payouts from the small fishing villages while the people starve. On the beach, dozens of village men are competing for spots on the only boats making money — pirate skiffs.
A seasoned fisherman and a shrewd man, Muse leads one of the pirate factions into international waters. They choose an easy target: a freighter traveling alone close to the Somali coast.
Alabama is a sitting duck. Unarmed, with only 21 men aboard and weighed down by cargo, the crew can do little butturn on the fire hoses to deter a boarding.
Muse and his men take the ship, expecting riches. Desperation sets in when they realize the Alabama isn’t packing millions.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy is working to end the confrontation.
Captain Phillips is the story of two men in impossible positions. Muse must produce money for his village or face the consequences. Phillips can’t allow his boat and crew to be taken hostage. Though the outcome of the real-life story was highly publicized, the cinematic play between Muse and Phillips is tense.
Director Paul Greengrass (Green Zone) is a master of taut thrillers with interesting characters. Captain Phillips slowly and relentlessly builds a sense of doom as Greengrass explains the odds for both Phillips and Muse. Unfortunately, the director hasn’t mastered a tripod. His shaky-cam style makes action sequences seem breathless. But after two hours of gesticulating visuals, this reviewer felt a bit seasick.
Still, Greengrass gets to the heart of his characters. He presents Muse’s rationale without condoning it, showing him as a man who’s made bad choices out of desperation. Greengrass is helped in his quest by Abdi’s magnetic screen presence.
Abdi is an exciting discovery, but this movie belongs to Hanks. It’s his first challenge in years. His helplessness, fear and eventual resolve are palpable in each moment. It’s a treat to see the actor who won back-to-back Oscars get back to form.
Captain Phillips is a fascinating look at how two men deal with impossible situations. But if you see it, take a Dramamine first.
Good Thriller • PG-13 • 134 mins.