The film recounts in meticulous detail, the story of Captain Richard Phillips a US merchant mariner and captain of the Maersk Alabama during the course of its hijacking by a band of Somali pirates on April 7th 2009. As in all of Greengrass’ serious work there is an almost unparalleled authenticity that comes across, which greatly adds to the tension and dramatic weight of the situations unfolding onscreen. The boarding of the ship by the pirate group is so well executed it becomes exciting, until the dreadful realization of what the consequences are for the captain and crew.
Nearly half of the film takes place in the tight confines of a life boat that houses Phillips as a hostage and his three captors. These cramped quarters serve as a visual element to the impeding doom bearing down on all involved, in trying to workout a peaceful conclusion to the standoff. The mental gamesmanship being played by Hanks’ character and the leader of the Somalian gang (Barkhad Abdi) are as fascinating as the military operation being put into place by the government to rescue the American hostage.
Playing the everyman working class east-coaster, suits the actor, he wears the identity like its tailored and with just a few gestures he speaks volumes about the man. The opening ten minutes, are the only scenes not dealing with the eventual pirate/hostage crisis at sea. It’s simply preparing for a business trip and a thoughtful conversation with his wife about their fears for the future of their college aged children entering a competitive job market. It may seem ordinary and even unnecessary when the story is over, but it does add a level of intimacy and an idea of the people whom Phillips is so desperate to see again.
If this is not Hanks’ strongest work ever, than its is most assuredly his best since 1995’s Apollo 13. Equal credit must be attributed to director Paul Greengrass, whose insistence on location shooting and realism has apparently made it easier for all of the cast to generate naturalistic and frightening good performances.
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman