"You said you were a businessman! Is this how you do business?"

Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks)

In the early summer of 2009, the US container ship Maersk Alabama is hijacked by a small crew of Somali pirates. Focusing on the relationship between the Alabama's commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), and the Somali pirate captain, Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a battle for control aboard a US vessel results in a deadly standoff 145 miles of the coast of Somalia. And both men will find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control…

Director Paul Greengrass needs little introduction - he is arguably one of the key innovators in modern action cinema. Since his explosion onto the big screen with 2002's Bloody Sunday (bagging himself a Golden Bear in the process), his style and attention to detail have brought vitality and a sense of immediacy and urgency to the movies, leaving many vacuous imitators desperately clinging to his shirt tails as they ape his storytelling skills. His two entries in the Jason Bourne franchise are widely considered the best, while his handling of the 9/11 atrocities in United 93 showed an unbiased yet emotional and heartfelt approach that many argued should have resulted in an Oscar. With Captain Phillips, Greengrass once again brings a level of authenticity and detail to a true story, without forgetting that at the human factor at the heart of the drama.

Bringing drama and tension to a true story is never an easy task; especially to a story that only hit the headlines 4 years ago. Yet Greengrass is an old pro at this type of film - some may even say that he is playing a little too safe by returning to the type of film he usually makes after a slight stumble with his W.M.D. thriller Green Zone. Yet no-one can deny that it is good to see him sinking his teeth into a meaty tale as this one. And he is aided once again by flawless casting. Hanks has rarely been better, with another potential Oscar nomination heading his way. He is also able assisted by a regular group of trusted character actors, including David Warshofsky, Chris Mulkey, Catherine Keener, and Greengrass alumni Corey Johnson and Omar Berdouni. But the masterstroke is in the casting of the Somali pirates. Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faisal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali may not have been actors before, but they more than hold their own against the seasoned cast of players, with Abdi in particular showing levels of desperation and controlled anger that would have current action movie stars running for the hills.

Billy Ray's screenplay is lean and efficient, giving Greengrass and his cast free rein in their approach to the action. The action is given the requisite gravitas with the now-trademark handheld camerawork (a technique that Greengrass remain the true master of) and energetic editing. Henry Jackman's score is at the same time subtle and bombastic, underlining the increasing sense of tension and desperation as the standoff between the pirates and the US Navy SEALs threatens to become deadly. In fact, all the elements are so well mixed together that big names like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder should take note - here is a modern action thriller that is more about the characters than the explosions.

 

Some people may say director Paul Greengrass is on auto-pilot, but when auto-pilot produces an action master-class of this caliber who cares? Captain Phillips is slick, lean and efficient thriller storytelling - and Tom Hanks should start making space on his mantelpiece for a possible 3rd Best Actor Oscar.