Dir: Paul Greengrass
In recent years, the cinematic glamorization of pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has elevated their status and cast them into a very lucrative limelight. Thanks to Johnny Depp and Disney, pirates now belong to a realm of myths and fairy tales far removed from reality; But what most people fail to realise is that piracy still exists (and not just to do with illegal downloads). It is a very real threat and Captain Phillips shows what it’s really like to encounter pirates. There’s definitely no charming, cheeky Captain Jack Sparrow, instead these are dangerous, ruthless men bent on taking what they want by force.
This harrowing and true story is directed by Oscar-winning Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum), with Tom Hanks in the title role. The plot is simple; It begins with Phillips preparing to captain a cargo ship for a voyage around the horn of Africa (past Ethiopia and Somalia); An long coastal area notorious with pirating. Partway into the journey, the ship is approached by two small, unidentified boats. Though Phillips manages to outsmart them in the first instance, and even partly prevents take over on their second attempt, their efforts in trying to out-manoeuvre the boats prove fruitless and the ship is boarded. In an attempt to protect the crew on board, Phillips keeps the focus on himself, which ultimately ends in him being held captive aboard a lifeboat headed towards Somalia.
Yes, the plot doesn’t sound overly complicated but that’s the beauty of it; It really is one man’s battle to try to save his ship an his life. This threadbare simplicity allows plenty of room for character exploration and Hanks does this particularly well. Minimalistic in terms of speaking, the story revolves hugely around the actors’ use of body language and facial expression. The film is a complex combination of emotion and the physical, both of which are executed extremely well; Something which Greengrass perfected in United 93. All of which makes for very tense viewing.
Hanks is splendid as the largely unsung hero; the captain just doing what he can. Thankfully the British Greengrass doesn’t have any desire to portray the pirates as 2D cannon fodder. Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse, one of the Somali pirates is fierce and intelligent in a role which could have enticed zero sympathy from other shoot ‘em up film makers. The exchange between the two is not only thrilling, it’s powerfully informative.
Terrorism is always going to be a popular subject in the arts, and it’s very easy to focus on portraying purely in the manner of what happened, rather than why. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that in cases such as these, it’s rarely as simple as good guys versus the bad guys. Greengrass makes an exemplified and commendable effort in making sure that reason isn’t lost amongst the violence. The film is remarkable viewing, terrifyingly realistic on a huge scale despite the close quarters atmosphere. However, it’s after the action has subsided that the film is at its most devastating; There’s no doubt this is one of Hanks‘ most powerful and inspiring performances.