In Captain Philips, the hero is an average family man just doing his job delivering cargo from one port to another. The villain is also another man just doing his rounds in the name of duty. It’s just business, says the latter when the two cross paths, and that’s when the story begins.
Based on the book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, a true story account of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in 2009 by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, Captain Philips is a gripping, effective thriller. Apparently, it’s not the whole truth, as the crew members are disputing the heroism portrayed by Hanks of the titular character, but that’s another story.
Despite most of it being filmed on a cargo vessel and inside a lifeboat at open waters, not a second goes by without tension and suspense, thanks to a tight screenplay that draws out the humanity of its lead characters. For a movie categorized as an action thriller, the narrative is powered not so much by the action sequences but the nuanced exchanges between prey and perpetrator, both of whom are victims of circumstance.
Watching Hanks’ character strike a fine balance between self-preservation and cautious civility with lead pirate Abduwali Muse, played just as affectingly by Somali-American actor Barkhad Abdi, one is reminded of just how little control we really have over our lives, and that is an unsettling premise manipulated to great effect by director Paul Greengrass of the Bourne franchise.
The ordeal ends with a masterfully wrought finale that proves less is more—especially when you have an actor of Hanks’ calibre delivering it.