'Captain Phillips': Movie review

September 27, 2013


“Captain Phillips” unfurls with an intensity that knocks the wind out of you. Director Paul Greengrass’ film — which opens the 51st New York Film Festival tonight before hitting theaters Oct. 11 — is the most gripping based-on-fact film so far this year.

In turning a nonfiction book into a high-tension action-drama, Greengrass (“United 93,” “The Green Zone”) has made cinematic gold. It’s like a sea-bound “Dog Day Afternoon,” only with the hostages as the heroes. But instead of a milquetoast middle manager, the title character is played with guts and gusto by Tom Hanks.
Hanks’ Phillips is a career seaman, with a wife (Catherine Keener) in Vermont and two kids in college. In March 2009, he takes a job helming a cargo vessel from Oman to Kenya. Their course takes them around the Horn of Africa, an area bedeviled by pirates.

Phillips, a no-nonsense guy, warns his crew. Their preparations are crucial, as they’re soon attacked by two skiffs carrying Somali men with guns. Smart maneuvering buys time, but the pirates are able to board. They’re few in number, but they’re driven to steal money and cargo, and they’re armed. Phillips’ ship has no weapons.
The Somalis, it turns out, aren’t very good at piracy. But their captain, Muse (a terrific Barkhad Abdi), is driven to prove himself, hoping to tamp down internal power struggles. The ship has only $30,000 on it — Muse is hoping for millions — and as confusion and violence break out, the pirates take Phillips and flee in a protected metal lifeboat. Captive and captors fight to control this messed-up situation as Navy SEALs bear down to save Phillips, who’s at the end of his rope.
Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray make the film a tough standoff between the two captains, a meditation on masculinity. Before the raid, Muse, a fisherman, reluctantly goes to sea only after village thugs threaten him. The desperation of the pirates draws events out and Muse, to save face, dares not back down.

Hanks lets his natural affability work as a smokescreen here. Yet he, like the man he plays, is cagey, and doesn’t tip his hand too soon. While never endangering his mainstream appeal, Hanks has proven himself to be one of the most daring A-list American actors, in “Philadelphia,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Road to Perdition,” the great “Cast Away,” even the thoughtfully odd “Cloud Atlas.” In much of “Captain Phillips,” his heroism is submerged. This is a guy who thinks on his feet and lets a cooler head serve as his best defense.
When he finally lets loose, however, there is well-earned, pent-up rage — and it comes after this incredible action-drama has cruised to speeds you have to see to believe.

By Joe Neumaier

Source : New York Daily News