Director Paul Greengrass has form when it comes to helming adaptations of traumatic world events; having cut his teeth on Bloody Sunday and United 93, his current offering, Captain Phillips, is his most assured yet and the best film of 2013 by a country mile, nautical mile or any other variety of mile you’d care to invent.
The story sees Tom Hanks as the eponymous cargo ship captain who is first attacked and then taken hostage by Somali pirates off the horn of Africa in 2009. But it isn’t a straight portrayal of real-life Richard Phillips’ book A Captain’s Duty. Instead Greengrass muddies the emotional waters with a thrilling account that juxtaposes Phillips’ heroism against the human forces that compel the pirates to attack.
The result is a beautifully balanced vindication of cinema’s very existence. Indeed, one piece of expositional crowbarring between Phillips and his wife aside, every single element of Captain Phillips is in ship shape and Bristol fashion: casting, soundtrack, cinematography, editing – it’s all peerless.
Billy Ray’s precise script leaves room for Greengrass to transform an inspiring tale of heroism into a tense film of the highest quality. Here, as with his Bourne films, Greengrass imbues the story with an immediacy that makes it bite against cinematic tropes. Macho pirates still spout off the typical dross about respect and strength, but they’re also given emotional depth. “You’ve got to stop,” says Phillips to his chief captor Muse. “I can’t stop,” he responds, “I come too far. I can’t give up.”
The performances in Captain Phillips are strong across the board, particularly the walk-on Somali cast, but Tom Hanks trumps them all. He’s an unlikeable boss – a stickler for procedure – but in a tight spot he’s invaluable and utterly selfless. By the end of the movie he delivers the finest three minutes of his career. Virtually speechless, with no plot development to deliver, he rips your heart out as he withdraws into a confused, stammering and shivering wreck of a man.
There is a reserved patriotism at work in Captain Phillips – the gun-toting maverick soldiers of most movies are replaced by calculated experts, calmly tearing the world to pieces to save a ship’s captain. This toned down professionalism reflects the film as a whole; restrained and controlled in all the right places, but ultimately deeply uplifting.
Captain Phillips is released nationwide on 18th October 2013.
Watch the trailer for Captain Phillips here: