Film Review: Captain Phillips

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.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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31 thoughts on “Film Review: Captain Phillips

  1. theipc says:

    I’ll check it out when it comes to VOD – good work here today!!

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Good review. One of the best of the year for many reasons, the main which being that Hanks is absolutely outstanding in one of his best roles in a long while.

  3. Excellent work Chris, quite agree with you. It’s a little telegraphed at the start (“Everything’s going to be fine isn’t it?” for example), but once it gets going it’s a thrill-a-minute.

  4. Naomi says:

    That’s the thing with these based-on-true-stories movies, isn’t it? On one hand I can be pissed that they glorified some things, steering a bit away from the reality, but on the other hand it’s the movies after all, so it has to be done, and well.. we know that it works.

    But anyway, this movie.. just.. what a thrill!

    • That’s precisely the issue. The filmmakers have some kind of duty to tell the truth but they have to take liberties with certain things. It’s the same when a book is adapted for the screen; it’s bound to change a little bit.

      And yeah this film was a massive thrill, I was gripped from start to finish.

  5. Popcorn Nights says:

    Sounds really good Chris – nice review. I’m sorely tempted to see it at the cinema as it’s Greengrass, but I’ve never been a massive fan of Hanks – so will probably wait for a DVD. I’ve seen him in some great films over the years, but he never makes me rush to the cinema!

    • Thanks Stu. Hanks is brilliant in this, although if you aren’t his biggest fan then you may struggle to see past that. It’s worth giving it a go though.

      • Popcorn Nights says:

        Actually I’ve got two days off and fancy a double bill at the cinema tomorrow, so you’ve convinced me! I don’t hate the guy, he’s a good actor and has been in some classics over the years.

      • Hope you enjoy it mate, I found it really gripping. What you gonna pair it with?

      • Popcorn Nights says:

        Probably Thor: The Dark World…although I’m starting to think the amount of superhero films I’m watching compared to the actual enjoyment I get from most of them isn’t quite balancing out!

      • Yeah I know what you mean, although Thor is one that interests me more than some of the others. I’d definitely watch Thor after this though as it’ll no doubt provide a nice tonic for the relentless tension here.

  6. keith7198 says:

    Same rating for me bro. I really like this film and I’m anxious to see it again.

  7. ckckred says:

    Nice review. Still got to see this one, I’ve meaning to watch Captain Phillips for a while. I’m not the biggest fan of Greengrass, but I have to admit this looks pretty solid.

  8. ruth says:

    Hello Chris! We agree on the rating on this one. The two leads here are impressive indeed, Hanks in one of his best ever performance and Barkhad Abdi in his acting debut, wow! Amazing that a few years ago he was a cab driver in my city! I took a cab today and I was thisclose of asking the Somali cab driver if he knew Abdi, ahahahaha.

    • Hey Ruth! Good to hear we’re on the same page here! 🙂 Abdi was fantastic, wasn’t he? He was so convincing as a pirate, and that’s mental he was a cab driver only a few years ago, I didn’t know that! Talk about a career change!

  9. Zoë says:

    Great review! I can’t wait to check this one out!

  10. sati says:

    Awesome review! I’m seeing it next weekend, I wasn’t planning on doing that after seeing the trailer but all those positive reviews convinced me 🙂

    • Thank you! It’s by no means revolutionary but it’s handled really well and I thought Hanks was brilliant, as was the Abdi, the guy who played the main pirate. I’ll look out for your thoughts either on your site or on Twitter if you don’t end up reviewing it 🙂

  11. Dan says:

    Thought this was terrific. Unrelenting tension and Tom Hanks is fantastic (as is the rest of the cast – particularly the Somali pirates). The ending is the best edge-of-your-seat cinema I’ve seen in recent years!

    • Glad you liked it Dan! It really was unrelenting, I don’t think there’s a moment in it that isn’t real edge of your seat stuff. I was exhausted by the end of it!

      • Dan says:

        Exhausted – perfect way to describe it! The incredible thing is how it manages to crank it up…if you think the first half is tension-filled…just wait until the final 20mins!

  12. Mark Walker says:

    Fine write-up Chris. This is one I’m definitely eager to see.

  13. table9mutant says:

    Might check this out this week. But Gravity first! Nice review. 🙂

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