Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Review: Captain Phillips

A breathtaking Greengrass masterclass. James Lovatt reviews.

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Director: Paul Greengrass

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Following the widespread acclaim of his 2006 film United 93, Captain Phillips marks Paul Greengrass' return to the concept of the hostage crisis. The blueprint for the picture remains the same, but now we're at sea, and in a story with a significantly lower profile than the 9/11 attacks.

The screenplay, penned by Billy Ray, is drawn from A Captain's Duty by Captain Richard Phillips, which details the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship. United 93 succeeded with a relatively unknown cast and no leading roles because nobody needed the slightest bit of encouragement to empathise with the events on screen. Now, with one of the most accomplished and adored actors of the past thirty years in the lead role, Tom Hanks provides a measured and harrowingly emotional performance which plunges the viewer right into the midst of the situation.

Initially stoic and slightly sour, the captain's quick decision-making and concern for his crew are brought to the fore when the Somalians eventually board the ship following two intense action sequences. Hanks' confident deliveries are constantly laced with nervousness as attempts at appeasement waver. The volatile pirates sit perennially on a knife-edge, with Barkhad Abdi deserving particular mention as leader Muse.

In Captain Phillips there are no contrived obstacles in technology or weather - this story is a disaster even when everything runs smoothly. And such a film can be ruined by all sorts of plotholes. You're not left thinking "Why didn't Captain Phillips just..." - the film's watertight, and the calculating expressions of Hanks and Abdi convey to us that with every twist, these two captains are frantically thinking on their feet.

Frenetic camerawork, characters shouting over one another and breathtaking extreme wide shots of a solitary cargo ship all contribute to the feeling of utter helplessness. Greengrass has surely confirmed his status as a master of tension-building too: every plot development warrants an extra nail to bite, and music by Henry Jackman is cliched and often unnoticeable, but infinitely effective.

Last year's Oscar for Best Picture wrent to a nail-biting thriller based on true events. This year may be the same.

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