‘Captain Phillips’ is clearly in command

The lifeboat being launched with pirates and hostage Tom Hanks aboard in 'Captain Phillips'
Tom Hanks plays the real merchant captain Richard Phillips in ‘Captain Phillips’

Tom Hanks is a two-time Best Actor Oscar winner and obviously an extremely talented actor.  Until the release of Captain Phillips, his talents have not been shown off in their best light for some time.  Based on the true story of the merchant ship captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009, this is the kind of story an actor of the caliber of Hanks can really do a lot with.  He did.

Hanks portrays Captain Richard Phillips as he is about to go back to sea aboard the container ship MV Maersk Alabama and he’s seen off at the airport by his wife, Andrea (Catherine Keener).  The ship was going to travel to Mombasa, Kenya and had 5,000 metric tons of relief supplies aboard.  Phillips is portrayed as a martinet who is very concerned about the crew and ship’s readiness to deal with any potential hijacking.

When the pirates show up, the captain and crew do their best to prevent the pirates from boarding but they are unsuccessful.  With the exception of Captain Phillips and two of the crew, who man the bridge, the rest of the crew hides out in the Engineering compartment.  Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is the leader of the four pirates and he makes it very clear that he is now in charge of the MV Maersk Alabama.

Barkhad Abdi leads the pirates who capture 'Captain Phillips'
Barkhad Abdi leads the pirates who capture ‘Captain Phillips’

A search of the ship is conducted but turns up nothing.  Eventually Muse is overpowered by the crew and taken prisoner.  The First Officer of the ship, Shane Murphy (Michael Chernus), attempts to exchange Muse for the other hostages.  The pirates agree and then double-cross Murphy and crew by taking Captain Phillips into the covered lifeboat with them and departing the ship.

The U.S. Navy, warned at the time of the hijacking, dispatches the U.S.S. Bainbridge and other ships to the area to prevent the pirates from landing in Somalia and taking Captain Phillips inland, making rescue much more difficult.  Now it is a race against time to find a way to save Captain Phillips.

While this is not a masterpiece, it is a superior film in terms of the production values, the writing and the telling of a true story that captured the front pages of newspapers around the world.  Hanks is outstanding in the role as previously mentioned and his name will be tossed around when awards season arrives.  Keeping an audience tense when they already know what will happen is not easy and director Paul Greengrass does it very well.

There is some controversy over whether or not the real-life Captain Phillips should be considered a hero, or as a risk-taker who gambled with the lives of himself and his crew by sailing much closer to Somalia than they had been advised to.  Some members of the crew have sued the Maersk Line over the incident for knowingly sending them into “pirate-infested” waters.  That the film does not address this is not a flaw of the filmmakers, but a choice about the story they wish to tell.  It was a good choice.

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