“Captain Phillips” – tense, suspenseful thriller
3 stars (out of 4)
If working opposite Hollywood star Tom Hanks is intimidating for an acting newbie, Barkhad Abdi certainly doesn’t let it show.
In his debut role as Somali pirate captain Muse (pronounced Moo-seh), Abdi portrays a man who is brutal, proud and relentless in his pursuit of American coin and the respect of his fellow marauders. He is unpredictable and desperate, yet Muse reveals tiny glimpses of his humanity beneath the violence.
In contrast, Hanks’ Captain Phillips is practical and commanding, demonstrated first by a conversation with wife Andrea – Catherine Keener in her only scene – and later by his firm interaction with his crew when their coffee break lasts a little too long. Phillips is so levelheaded, he succeeds in keeping his composure through life-threatening circumstances up until a beautifully acted moment, when the horror of what he’s been through finally sinks in.
Based on the true story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama ship hijacking by Somali pirates, “Captain Phillips” is a film about two men from different worlds, both fighting for their lives. Muse, seemingly driven by greed and poverty, becomes Phillips’ captor. Hinting at the stark disparity between life in first world and third-world countries, Phillips (referred to as “Irish” by the pirates due to his Yankee-Irish background) says to Muse, “There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.”
“Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America,” Muse replies.
Director Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “United 93”) utilizes tight, close-up shots to show how suffocated and restricted Phillips is while being held captive. Early in the movie, the film quality distinctly changes as scenes alternate from Phillips’ crew to Muse’s, going from clear to a gritty, grainy quality. This change is another example of the difference in their worlds – Muse comes from a harsher, abrasive and unyielding environment, which is reflected in his cruel behavior.
“Captain Phillips” is a tense and action-packed film with strong performances from the entire cast. Hanks’ aforementioned standout moment near the end of the film highlights his ability to convey relief and terror simultaneously, through body language and facial expression.
One flaw with the film, though, is the lack of background on the Somali characters. Abdi, with his tall, gaunt figure and dark gaze, brings life to a character that could have felt superficial in less capable hands. He remains persistent down to his last scene, and more insight into his motivation and past would have been helpful.
“I come too far, Irish,” Muse said, when Phillips begged him to turn himself in to the Navy SEALS. “I can’t give up, no.”
“Captain Phillips”- 3 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sustained, intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images and for substance use)
Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
In theaters now
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