I remember reading about the April 2009 pirate attack in Somalia. Honestly, I was surprised that there were pirate attacks still occurring. At the time, I was 17 years old and I wasn’t exactly reading or watching the news everyday like I am now. All I could think about was the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, so I couldn’t imagine what a modern-day pirate attack would be like.
Flash forward to this fall, where I was sitting in a movie theater with the events of the attack playing out in front of me. I was blown away. Without much prior knowledge of the more intense occurrences of the pirate attack, I was able to experience it right along with Captain Phillips and his crew members. Even for those who knew the more grisly details of the attack and hostage situation(like my parents) the film was still incredibly intense.
The film, directed by Paul Greengrass, tells this true story incredibly well and sets the bar of what a real-life thriller film can and should be.
The action and story moves well and despite its 2 hour and 14 minutes run time, it never stalls or has slow parts, even when the heart-pounding pirate attack moments are on calmer water.
Even with the smart script and directing that made the film so edge-of-your-seat intense, what really makes the film incredible is Tom Hank’s acting and the dynamic between him and the pirate leader, Muse, played by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, in his first role.
I recently read an article from The Hollywood Reporter about the film. The article dives into the process of filming those intense scenes and what it was like for the actors.
The most interesting part of the read was the fact that the Somalian actors were not introduced to Tom Hanks prior to filming their first scene; the tension-filled scene where the pirates board the ship and demand Captain Phillips and his crew take their orders. And this scene brilliantly showcases two aspects of the film: Tom Hanks’ incredible acting and the effective tension-filled story progression.
Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Captain Richard Phillips is a powerful, tour-de-force performance and one of the best of his career. When the audience is introduced to Captain Richard Phillips, it’s his blue-collar worker, run of the mill man that pulls the audience in. He’s relatable and he’s automatically someone that you can identify with-the everyday working man.
Liking a character enables you to care for him or her, the sympathize with what he or she goes through. And with Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Captain Richard Phillips, you are able to do just that and more; you root for him, you want him to be able to make it through this pirate attack and hostage situation as a hero.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is how it garners from the audience sympathy not only for Captain Phillips, but for the pirates as well. Near the beginning of the film, there are very effective shots that serve to both contrast the life as a working man on a cargo ship and the hard life of these Somalian pirates, and to set up the motives of these pirates. It offers an interesting commentary on their way of life. Their pirate attacks are like their careers. It’s the life they know and it’s how they get by.
Though their plan of action is carefully thought out, problems arise after boarding the ship. This is when the pirate’s desperation is revealed. It’s the gaunt Somali pirate captain, Muse, that shows the most wide-eyed desperation and the one the audience garnerssympathy for.
The fact that Barkhad Abdi and the actors portraying the other pirates are natives of Somalia and first-time actors really provides authenticity to their roles. The acting range of Abdi is awe-inspiring. First he shows determination and leadership when taking over the captain duties of the ship, but it’s when his character’s flaws and failed plans come through that he really has the chance to showcase his acting and pull the audience in. It’s fascinating to watch and the for his performance is well earned.
It’s the final five minutes of the film, however, that really shake you to the core. It’s a scene that stays with you long after the film ends. And it’s a scene that will undoubtedly give Tom Hanks an Oscar nomination, and possibly the win.
After going through the pirate attack, where he and his crew had to outsmart the pirates, and after being held hostage for five days, and ultimately surviving the ordeal, the final moments of the film offer the audience an intimate look into Captain Phillips’ shell-shocked emotional and physical breakdown. It’s a riveting scene, masterfully shot, with tight, revealing close-up shots, and incredibly acted by Tom Hanks.
It’s heartbreaking to watch, but an important scene to witness. Much of the film’s action plays out like nightmare story told at sea. The event of the pirate attack is almost unbelievable, since it’s something not often reported about. But it really did happen. And that’s what the final scene of the movie drives home extremely well. It was a frightening enough event for the film audience to watch unfold on the screen, but it was really experienced by real people. And it was a traumatizing, physically and emotionally exhausting ordeal. Going into the movie, I was not expecting to be emotionally affected by it, but Tom Hanks’ acting during the final moments hit me like a ton of bricks: what Richard Phillips went through was real, was traumatic, and more than likely left its scars. And these emotions are transferred to the audience as well, thanks to Hanks’ powerful acting.
“Captain Phillips”: A