Captain Phillips is a dramatic recreation of a real hijacking in 2009, and as the title suggests, Capt. Richard Phillips is the core of the film.
Phillips (Tom Hanks) is transporting cargo on the Maersk Alabama when the ship is boarded by armed Somali pirates. The pirates hijack Phillips's ship and take him hostage, turning the routine trip into an aggressive invasion. Meanwhile, pirate captain Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and his crew member Najee (Faysal Ahmed) compete for power, disagreeing frequently on what they should do with Phillips.
The film moves slowly until the pirates have boarded the ship, and once they have, the story is interrupted multiple times by cutaways to military officials handling the situation from the United States. These cutaways detract from the suspense. The viewer is too aware of the outside world to shift into Phillips's perspective, in contrast to films such as 2010's 127 Hours, which successfully placed the viewer in the lead character's position.
Though the film's structure is detrimental to the tone, the cinematography is almost as raw as documentary footage, immersing the viewer in the atmosphere on the ship. Viewers will have a wide variety of reactions to the camera work, however, because its shakiness can be a bit much at times. Overall, the cinematography is a strength.
The script is action oriented, with little essential dialogue, yet Hanks still manages to shine through. Phillips is an incredibly charismatic person because of his diplomatic skills and his empathetic nature, making him a fantastic protagonist. Meanwhile, the Somali pirates are dynamic characters rather than flat villains, and their presence adds even more realism.
The best part of the film is Hanks's performance as a shaken Richard Phillips in the last five minutes. Hanks is a gem of an actor, able to convey so many emotions without speaking a single word. When he does speak, his character's Massachusetts accent is surprisingly convincing. There are no weak performances, but Hanks stands out. He deserves an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role this year, and he could easily win.
The second half of the film builds a tension so strong it is stressful to watch. While Captain Phillips adds little to the news story from 2009, the story is an important one that needed to be translated onto the screen, and director Paul Greengrass has done a reasonably good job.
Mark Mukherjee is a senior at King High.