Captain Phillips starts out innocently enough. Tom Hanks gets ready to fly from his Vermont home to his job as the captain of a freighter half way across the world. Cathleen Keener plays his wife in the emotionally fraught opening scene. From then on it’s all men on a boat.
Director Paul Greengrass knows his way around ripped-from-the-headlines action (United 93, Bloody Sunday). Greengrass uses just the right amount of handheld camera movement combined with men-with-guns tension. The first act intercuts between Hanks and his crew preparing for their journey and Somali locals being recruited for a pirate mission. Doors are locked and chained throughout the boat but once the pirates board the ship they use automatic weapons to easily bypass such security.
Barkhad Abdi plays the main villain but it’s a nuanced performance that gives him an emotional center equal to Hanks. Once the main takeover occurs the pirates hightail back to the Somali coast in a lifeboat (more of a floating submersible) with Hanks as a hostage. Captain Phillips is based on events that took place in 2009 regarding Captain Richard Phillips and the hijacking of the ship Maersk Alabama. We all know how this ends and yet CP just keeps grinding out suspense right up to the inevitable showdown with Navy SEALS.
In a rapid final scene we witness Hanks being debriefed and patched up by Navy doctors. It’s here that Hanks gives a full throttle breakdown as the shock of what has just happened washes over him.
— Michael Bergeron