3 out of 5
Captain Phillips is a true story of Richard Phillips, a ship captain with more than 30 years of experience grazing the sea. In 2009 his ship was hijacked by four Somalian pirates and was held hostage. He survived the incident and wrote a book about it, in which the film is based on.
Now, I think everybody finds most reviews about this film is outstanding, but I do have to disagree. Captain Phillips indeed tells a remarkable story of a man trying to survive an uncertain faith by only using his wit and luck. The first half of the film rolls wonderfully. The ordinary day on a ship turns into a rather worrying one when the Captain and his crew find out that there are two small skiffs following them. They think that they manage to shake off the followers and continue operating as before, until the next day one skiff manages to catch up and four pirates embark on the ship. It is a fascinating scene to see such tiny skiff took over a much much bigger boat and four scrawny, poorly-dressed young men stand in command. This is where the game of characters and wit begins. The film does not dwell on the story background so deeply. We know that the pirates come from a very poor village in the coast of Somalia and are forced by a warlord, we also know that Phillips is a family man from Vermont and trying to convince his son to stay in college. Those are the only backgrounds we need to know as the film focuses on the timing of the hostage.
The scenes where the pirates are searching the ship to find where the crew are hiding, while Phillips tries to buy them some time are very intense. A game of cat and mouse that if there is one small mistake will result in death. The pirates end up not getting the ship, but they get Phillips instead and take him hostage as they are running away using a lifeboat. The game of characters continues as four pirates and a hostage get stuck together in a small vessel. Tom Hanks as usual does not disappoint. He portrays a scared person but trying to do his best to stay calm and buys as much time for him to figure out an escape plan. The best performance is by newcomer Barkhad Abdi playing, Muse, the leader of the pirates. Abdi delivers a unique performance of a dangerous pirate with a vulnerable charisma. His performance is very layered without overdoing it. His character, Muse, though alone manages to get the US Navy and SEAL team running around like headless chickens. His determination alone thwarts several attempts of rescuing Phillips. Advance military strategic vs wit. Simple as that. The other three actors playing the pirates are also very natural in their roles. Intensity after intensity is delivered when they are arguing with each other inside the lifeboat, angry and scared if the plan fails.
The absolute mood destroyer of the film is every single scene portraying the navy and SEAL. Each scene has stereotypical Hollywood action music playing in the background. In my opinion portraying the US military overloaded with machismo is truly a tired premise, especially after Hurt Locker, Generation Kill, Jarhead, and various other films that manages to capture the humanity behind those kevlars. I understand the director wants to portray the military as an institution instead of collective personalities, but surely there are subtle ways to do so. The intense drama between Phillips and the pirates reverts back and forth with cheesy military scenes making the latter half of the film looks like it’s made of 2 completely different films that are cut and pasted to the same screen.
In a nutshell this film had a potential to be a great drama. But sadly to say it faltered when it almost reached the top.