Movie Review: Captain Phillips

From Paul Greengrass, director of The Bourne Ultimatum, comes Captain Phillips, a biopic about merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage along with his crew by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009 led by Abduwali Muse. This riveting true story of heroism, sacrifice, and hope fuels the thrilling nature of this engrossing film, that tells of how one man's sacrifice and bravery kept him alive in a life-changing and dangerous situation.


Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) takes command of the MV Maersk Alabama at port in Oman, with orders to sail through the Gulf of Aden to Mombasa, transporting mass amounts of cargo. Wary of pirate activity off the coast of Somalia, he orders security precautions on the vessel. During a training drill, Phillips notices that two small skiffs are approaching their ship and alerts the crew that this is not a drill. After one of the skiffs retreat, four pirates return the next day led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) in a faster skiff, carrying a ladder they had hastily welded in order to board the ship. Despite Phillips' and his crew's best efforts, the pirates are able to board and take control of the Maersk Alabama, capturing the captain and two crew members while the rest hide in the ship's engine room. Muse, under orders from a local faction leader, hopes to ransom the ship and crew in exchange for insurance money from the shipping company. After taking Phillips hostage in their escape off the boat, the pirates operate the ship's lifeboat away from the ship and travel toward the Somali coast in order to trade Phillips from ransom money. The situation quickly gets out of hand as the pirates become more and more reckless and Captain Phillips becomes even more in danger.

This film can be described in simply one word: Powerful. From the edge-of-your-seat nail-biting scenes of Phillips' capture to the menacing emotions of the Somali hijackers-turned kidnappers, this film was the definition of a modern true-story thriller. Throughout the film, the thrills never cease, from when the crew first saw the approaching skiffs to the final minutes of the deadly stand-off between the pirates and the U.S. Navy. The emotion showed in the film was amazing, especially in our star, Tom Hanks, who expresses the true nature of what it feels like to be a hostage in this kind of situation. Emotion was a key tool in making this film successful, for one because without the true fear of the hostages, it wouldn't seem realistic, and two that the pirates needed their own types of emotions and personalities to make them different, but all the more menacing in the end. 

The cast of the film was spot-on, although quite limited to Hanks and the pirates themselves. Hanks, who has stolen roles varying from animated cowboys and criminal-chasing FBI agents to coin-wishing kid-turned adults and veteran astronauts, once again stole the show as he depicted the lone hostage of a massive hijacking/kidnapping situation. While Hanks did express possibly his best performance of the past few years, the real stars of the film have to be the underrated antagonists: the Somali pirates. Showing their most menacing and fearless performances for the first time on-screen, the men behind the hijackers really know how to bring the heat in this engrossing thriller. From the four pirates, we have the fearless leader Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi, who portrayed an interesting role of a man who has nothing to lose and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Muse was a conflicted and ill-fated character who created his own demise by his reckless actions. The remaining pirates, also played by fellow Somali actors, each had a specific personality that made them all different and unique to the story: Faysal Ahmed, who played Najee, was portrayed as the reckless and angry member of the pirates who's ultimate goal was to kill Phillips from the start, although being denied by Muse; the quiet member of the pirates, Elmi (Mahat M. Ali), acted first as a guard then a driver of the lifeboat in the film and didn't do much, but still was important to the plot; the final member of the hijacking pirates is the youngest member Bilal, played by Barkhad Abdirahman, who becomes injured by glass on the ship's engine room's floor early on in the story and must get aid by Phillips once inside the lifeboat. Bilal was an influential character because he acted as the inexperienced young mind that didn't have much say in what was going on, but just followed orders to stay alive. Throughout the film, and more as it neared its conclusion, I was hoping that Bilal would revolt against the other pirates and stand up for Phillips, however he ended up meeting the same end that the fated pirates led themselves to.

The intensity of this film is something I consider rare in most historical dramas, or docudramas, as most call them. From recent examples, like Argo, The Impossible, and Zero Dark Thirty, intensity fuels the success of these films as they keep you on the edge and keep you guessing what will happen next. Captain Phillips uses intense scenes to its advantage, as we witness one of the most dangerous examples of hostage and piracy situations of the modern world. Like one of the most famous examples, 2012's Zero Dark Thirty, that contains its most intense scene at nearly the last half-hour of the film, Phillips does the same, making the final stand-off between the pirates and the rescuing Navy forces the most intense and tear-jerking scene in the film. My favorite scene, which might be the most disturbing, is when (Spoilers!) the Navy snipers on the battleship execute the three remaining pirates in the lifeboat in a final attempt at saving Phillips. Leaving the petrified captain covered in his own blood, along with the blood of his captors, this is a powerful scene in which Phillips breaks down after being saved, but believes he has died along with them, eventually relieved but shocked by his experiences. At the end of the film, Phillips is brought on board and goes into shock as his experiences come to light and he thanks his saviors continuously as he is treated.

Overall, Captain Phillips is the must-see thriller of the year. With a cast limited to the incredible Tom Hanks and the amazingly terrifying (only in the film, of course) group of Somali actors, this film is immensely entertaining and undeniably intense. If you liked films like Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, or any thriller basically, you'll definitely enjoy this film about a captain taken against his will and who must do all he can to stay alive while on the deadly pirate-infested seas of the Indian Ocean.

I gave this film a 9 out of 10, because it's an amazing example of an intense thriller, that has a incredible rag-tag team of actors, an entertaining yet gripping true story, and one shocking ending that will leave you wanting more.                   

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