"Everything OK, Irish!"
Tom Hanks stars as Boston-bred, merchant mariner and captain of the Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips, but this movie focuses on two other captains, and, yes, the story is about how Phillips was kidnapped and held hostage and then was subsequently rescued, but it's arguable that Phillips wasn't the only captain in this film to be held hostage. It's arguable that Abduwali Muse, the captain of the Somali pirates, is also a hostage. It's also arguable that Frank Castellano, the captain of the USS Bainbridge the Navy ship that came to save the day, is too a type of hostage.
All three are put into situations in which they are trapped and have no way out, not without the intervention of one with more power. Of course, these three men are on a sliding scale of hostage. Phillips is the most hostage, an actual prisoner in fact. Muse is in the middle, and Castellano is the least hostage.
Billy Ray (Shattered Glass and The Hunger Games) adapts the book by the real-life Richard Phillips, which is mostly a first-person account of the five-day ordeal, and puts us in the shoes of all three men. Each one starts out strong and confident, and, by the end, each one is broken down and seemingly defeated, until someone comes along and takes them out of their predicament. It's the perfect confluence of men literally in the same boat.
It's obvious for Phillips, as his decline is the most in our face, as director Paul Greengrass (United 93 and Bloody Sunday) often puts us right in Hanks' face. Yet, one actor's face with whom we become intimately more familiar is that of Barkhad Abdi who plays Muse. His face is so skinny, so narrow, with a look that always feels desperate and starving. Muse makes reference to a man for whom he works, but it's not as simple as this man is his hostage-taker. Muse is a hostage to a larger situation that has led to now a culture of Somali piracy, men who may seem greedy and some who actually are, but men who are hostage to hunger and poverty caused by foreign trawlers who have depleted the Somalian fishing industry.
The other captain who becomes a hostage who might not seem one ostensibly is Castellano, played by Yul Vazquez (The Good Wife and Magic City). He isn't put under an actual gun like Phillips, but he is put under a metaphorical one, as he's tasked to resolve the situation with the pirates before the Navy SEAL team led by the unnamed SEAL Commander, played by Max Martini (Saving Private Ryan and Contact), take over. Of course, Castellano knows what that means. Somewhere in him lies the compassion and empathy that resists the cold, clinical and bloody solution that the SEAL Commander brings. As a result, he's under the SEAL team's guns. They're simply not pointed at him but yet he still feels them.
Because of all this, Captain Phillips is in fact Greengrass' best film, if not his most thrilling. Despite the dearth of action as compared to his more energizing films like The Bourne Supremacy (2004) or The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), this film has a terror and dread that is a million times more gripping. Many critics have already said it, but the final minutes of this film is by far some of the best acting of the year and probably some of the best acting I've seen from Hanks since Philadelphia (1993). The emotional release he delivers and subsequent examination hits to the core.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 14 mins.