Captain Richard Phillips takes command of the MV Maersk Alabama for a journey from Oman to Kenya. However, as the boat passes near to the coast of Somalia, a group of pirates hijack the vessel. As captain, Phillips knows he has to do whatever it take to ensure safety of his crew.
Captain Phillips is a dramatisation of real-life events that took place in 2009, and inevitably there has been a great deal of discussion as to how closely the film portrays reality. Richard Phillips has stated that the film is a pretty decent depiction of events, whilst his crew, many of whom are still taking legal action against the captain for endangering their safety, have criticised the film for being wildly inaccurate and glorifying Phillips’ role. However, what can’t be argued is that Captain Phillips is one of the most intense white knuckle rides of the year.
Director Paul Greengrass does a fantastic job in ramping up the tension to almost unbearable levels, even though you’re pretty sure of how events are going to unfold. His use of shaky-cam is widespread, but never distracting, giving the whole thing a docu-drama feel at times, and combined with Barry Ackroyd’s cuperb cinematography really increases the sense of urgency and threat. Greengrass’s decision to keep the actors playing the pirates and those playing the crew completely separate until the scene in which the pirates board the ship was also inspired, as we’re seeing Hanks and pals’ genuine reaction to their first meeting.
Talking of Mr Hanks, he gives a superlative performance in the titular role. It could easily have been distracting having Hanks as the only real big name in the film, but he really throws himself head first into the part and delivers one of the best performances of his career. A scene towards the end with Hanks being examined by a medical officer is quite simply staggering. His equal and opposite, Barkhad Abdi who plays pirate leader Muse, is equally impressive in his first ever film role. He and Hanks work brilliantly together and provide the perfect foil for each other.
Nit-picks are few and far between and are just that – nit-picks. It’s rammed down our throats early on that pirates are obviously going to attack the ship through Phillips’ reading news articles about pirates and scenes dedicated to him checking locks. It didn’t need to spelled out to us. Also, there is the slight feeling of glorification of Phillips and his role, particularly if you’re aware of the true nature of the events, but this should be easy to overlook. We are allowed a glimpse into the lives of the pirates and shown that they are real people just trying to survive, but this feels a little under-explored.
When tackling real-life events such as this, filmmakers face an almost impossible task. They have to make the film entertaining without straying too far from what actually happened. Consequently, there’s nearly always a bit of give and take, and they use a little artistic license to make a more effective film. So whilst Captain Phillips may not be a 100% accurate representation of events, it still deserves to be recognised as an incredibly accomplished piece of filmmaking.