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Movie review: Captain Phillips

Updated on October 11, 2013

Blackbeard. Sparrow. Pugwash. A top three of pirates if ever there was one. Arrrrgh. It's strange to think that pirates still exist today on our high seas; the term 'pirate' is probably a tad too romantic for them however, as they are nothing more than terrorists on a boat, as Captain Phillips found out to his cost in 2009.

It was a fairly routine job for Captain Richard Philips (Tom Hanks); to deliver cargo aboard the container ship Maersk Alabama to Mombasa, Kenya. Over the years however, the route had got a notorious reputation for Somali locals attacking ships at sea. Trade must continue however.

Unfortunately for Phillips and his crew of 20 men, the Alabama did indeed fall prey to unwanted attention off the coast Somalia. And although they had often drilled for such occasions, none of them were prepared for the events that took place.

Brit Paul Greengrass must have been the first name on the list for this project – possibly the only name on the list - to direct this feature considering his previous projects. If you put his Matt Damon trilogy to one side (two Bourne films and Green Zone) Greengrass has helmed a number of these based on true events features: 1999's The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, 2002's Bloody Sunday and 2006's United 93. The latter focused on the hijacking of one of the planes on 9/11. This film fits perfectly into this collection.

It's his low-key, quasi documentary style of filmmaking that makes real-life events all the more believable. And yet despite this overall feel, he still manages to inject some Hollywood drama into proceedings, without ever going over the top. His biggest asset here is in the head pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi); Abdi not only gives his character the classic villain treatment, it's made all the more remarkable for being his first acting role. On screen, opposite the titan that is Hanks, Abdi personifies menace; he does so without ever resorting to stereotypical Bond villainy, instead rooting his character in a truly disturbing layer of reality.

And Hanks, as always, makes it all too easy. It's a subtle performance by his standards, but reinforces his ability to play the everyman in a very James Stewart kind of fashion. And then, in one brief scene at the end, he manages to display, in a flicker of brilliance, just how impressive he can be.

This really is bread and butter stuff for Greengrass though. Where he succeeds once again, is in his portrayal of real life events; he continues to bring this kind of story to the screen, with an amazing amount of fraught tension and drama intact from the off, without ever resorting to Hollywood trademarked melodrama.

Captain Phillips not only serves as remarkable telling of a true event, but is told, by all concerned, in the most absorbing fashion. It's advised to hold onto your seats and keep those water wings inflated, as you're in for one hell of a bumpy ride.

4 booms

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