It is a relatively distinct style that you are getting when you pay to go see a film directed by Paul Greengrass. The shaky cam with almost documentary style cinematography tries to bring you into the action and build tension off of that realism. Captain Phillips is no different from the Bourne films, United 93, or Bloody Sunday but where it differs is in its disregard for a fantastic opportunity at watching two characters play off each other.
Captain Phillips follows the events surrounding the Maersk Alabama, a U.S. cargo ships that was sailing around the African coast. The ship was boarded by armed pirates and hijacked in April of 2009. Captain Richard Phillips (played by Tom Hanks) uses a lot of bravery and courage to keep the pirates away from his crew and the ship.
Greengrass’ thriller builds off these events and it gives him a perfect playground to use his directing style with the subject matter. The scenes where the pirates are hijacking the ship and searching for crew members work very well with this style. We are held at the edge of our seats while these men look for the crew and Phillips does his best to steer them away. It works as a classic thriller trick where the audience knows where they are but the characters do not and the suspense is built off the unknown from the pirates.
Hanks does superb in the role of Phillips and truly carries the film at some portions. He has an accent that you have to get used to initially but once the hijacking starts and the second and third acts begins, he sells you and probably has driven himself towards an Oscar nomination. Barkhad Abdi steals many scenes as Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates. Muse gives humanity to the pirates and his conversations with Phillips drive the plot of the film.
My problem with that is just that, we don’t get enough of Muse and Phillips by the end. The two work well of each other and Abdi does a standout job being that this was his first feature film gig. His character is our connection to Somali and the reason that the place is not painted out as just hell during the film. Muse, while a pirate, shows humanity unlike the others and is working to help himself survive which is what Phillips soon realizes.
Greengrass gets the action right but when it comes to the characters, he struggles. Hanks can command on his own but the rest of the cast can feel left out at times which is tough because the other actors do a great job as well. It was something I expected going in, but with not enough action to balance the lack of character development, I began to lose interest during the muddy third act.
That being said, the film is fun. The action is thrilling and there are two to three scenes that have you on edge while watching. It has that trait where even though you may know the outcome, it makes you hold your breath and rethink if you are correct or not. Greengrass is still talented and the action is up to par with the rest of his stuff.
Captain Phillips is a strong thriller and while it doesn’t give its characters enough time to grow, it still entertains you and makes you go on edge. I don’t know if I would put it on my Best Picture shortlist right now but I can see why some see it there.