Original US release date: October 11, 2013
Production budget: $55,000,000
Worldwide gross: $218,791,811
Ahhh, is there anyone more appropriate for portraying the everyman hero character than the great Tom Hanks? Years before Hanks portrayed Captain Chesley Sullenberger in 2016’s Sully Hanks portrayed Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, which was infamously hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Hanks is joined by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who earned himself an Oscar nomination for his performance as Muse, the Somali leader. There were some ruffled feathers when Hanks also didn’t get a nomination as this is one of his strongest performances in a career full of strong performances.
There was actually some debate at the time regarding Phillips’s true status as a hero. Some of the men who were on board with him blamed him for getting them into the situation in which they found themselves. I’m going to be honest. I don’t have the strength for that conversation. I wasn’t there. I can’t speak to what happened. So, I won’t try. Instead, I’ll simply speak to this telling of the story.
Captain Phillips was a well-conceived choice to adapt from real-life into film. Not only was the film made in about as timely a manner as it could have been, before the story had been forgotten with the passage of time, but it fits nicely under the crazy-because-it’s-true umbrella. It’s every bit as thrilling and captivating as a fictional story about a hijacking at sea would have been, but it gets the added boost of (alleged, depending on who you ask) truthfulness to give it plenty of added weight. If you haven’t seen the film, before, it would require a cold, cold heart to not get wrapped up and enthralled in the proceedings as things go from bad to worse to are-you-kidding? for Captain Phillips and his crew.
If you have seen the film, the simplicity of the story hurts it, a little bit on subsequent re-watches. The performances, however, – particularly by Hanks – easily keep the film afloat and give the viewer plenty to chew on. Paul Greengrass does an excellent job directing the film in such a way to build the tension organically as the narrative intensifies. But once you know how everything unfolds, it just seems to take a little longer than it did on the initial viewing.
As mentioned, newcomer Barkhad Abdi scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for his turn as Somali pirate Muse. He certainly does a fine job, though the Academy has a bit of a reputation for being pleasantly surprised by a fresh face and rewarding them with a nomination due as much to the fact that they exceeded expectations as to the quality of their performance. Sometimes, those talents stick around (Hailee Steinfeld, Anna Paquin) and, sometimes, they don’t. The latter has been the case for Abdi, who has had some very small, obscure parts in the years since this film, but nothing of note. I was curious at the time of the release of this film as to how much versatility he would have as an actor and, as I suspected, it appears as though we may never truly know.
In spite of the Academy’s misstep, Tom Hanks is the powerhouse in this film. He’s the heart, soul, and foundation of the entire project. It’s true that Abdi gave him good energy to play off of, but there are scenes (one scene, in particular) where it’s just Hanks by himself and he is absolutely astounding in these moments. I still single Hanks out as the greatest actor of our time and him not getting an Oscar nomination for this performance remains my choice for the biggest Oscar snub in at least the last ten years.
So, what we ultimately have in Captain Phillips is a film that’s based on a true story but plays like a fictional thriller. Hanks grabs the attention of the audience and refuses to release them, forcing them to live vicariously through his performance so that they feel as though they lived the film instead of watched it. Muse plays a strong villain opposite Hanks as they work together to relentlessly elevate the anxiety until it culminates in a brilliant climax that leaves the viewer rattled and breathless. If you’ve seen it recently, you may want to give it a little more time to fade from memory so it’s a bit of a fresh viewing experience. But, other than that, Captain Phillips is a thrill ride buoyed by confident direction and exquisite performances.
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