Captain Phillips’ biggest strength — beyond even its technical competence and almost unceasing tension — is the tightrope it walks with the Somali pirates. They are, at once, clearly villainous: violent, greedy thieves. But they are also tremendously human characters, poor kids acting out of desperation. The movie hinges on the absolutely phenomenal, Oscar-nominated turn by Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the captain of the pirates.
Greengrass leans just the right amount into mirroring the experiences of Muse and Phillips, played by an also-outstanding Hanks. The parallels never get into the cute or contrived territory, yet the film really sells that the fundamental motivations and demeanors of each is quite similar.
The film’s tone of tension is sustained relentlessly throughout the film, with only a slight dip when the pirates leave the cargo ship. It’s a breather before the film’s nail-biter of second half, in which the line between survival and death — for both pirates and Captain Phillips — is razor thin.
The final few minutes eschew the conventional heroism and triumph totems in favor of a muted, shell-shocked denouement — maybe Hanks’ best moment in the film. It’s a true Greengrass touch, adding a flourish of realism to leaven the drama.
The movie looks and sounds great on top of everything. Greengrass’s handheld cam adds a deep sense of immersion. It all ultimately holds together as a well-crafted, compelling thriller.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective
Exceptionally Good (7/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.