“Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America.”
Tom Hanks proves himself again as one of the great modern actors in Paul Greengrass’ newest film Captain Phillips. Based on the true story of the MV Maersk Alabama’s encounter with Somalian pirates, Greengrass delivers a fast-paced, contemporary and yet ultimately moving film that tackles all previous perceptions and human motives regarding these dangerous waters. In this respect the film is not just a modern necessity, but it is also in some ways ground-breaking. When you throw in what is without doubt one of Hanks’ best performances, it may go some way to explain the speculation and expectation surrounding the film’s possible clean sweep at next year’s Academy Awards.
As far as the cinematography and film style is concerned, it may feel like you are treading familiar waters, but given that the Somalians are famously played by a group of friends with little or no acting experience, and Hanks’ very real response to these intimidating pirates, there is an uncanny sense of realism that permeates the screen. The last scene especially is a haunting reminder of the human impact of this tragedy, and the juxtaposition of Greengrass’ high-octane style with the film’s roots in real events, creates a movie that is without doubt a true diamond in the rough during a fairly average year for film releases.
An admirable trait in this film is its ability to gently squeeze contextual dialogue that opens up debate and topical doorways into the very thin gaps left between the back to back action sequences that intensely litter the film. There is however, a slight dip during the middle of the film, and some of the momentum is lost during the lifeboat scenes, but even then there is always a certain impatience and recklessness that continues throughout to keep you pinned to your seat.
This film will no doubt be most remembered for the tense power struggle and multilayered interplay between Muse, the Somalian pirate captain, and Phillips himself, as they are torn between determination and self-preservation. In fact, The ownership of power leaps and jumps around more than Greengrass’ camera work, moving from the hands of a fisherman forced to raid the nearby international waters, all the way through to the American response. Here, there is a stark difference between the un-organised, desperate and impressionable Somalians, to the hard, calculated responses from the American military, that we all know too well.
Greengrass expertly injects the pace and intensity of a Bourne film into a raw and exposed realism that allows the actors to immerse deeply into the roles so naturally, it becomes an uncanny interplay between the actors. Greengrass questions the assumed lines between right and wrong, showing them instead to be only drawn in chalk, ready to wipe away at a moment’s notice. When the public hears these stories on the news or read them in the paper, we automatically presume to question the motives of these men that ruthlessly hijack these innocent vessels. We therefore, along with Hanks, all say to Muse: “‘There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman and kidnapping people”, to which the pirate smiles and responds: “Maybe in America”.
Shapstik verdict: A thought provoking, insightful, yet action-packed film that tackles and asks some of the most important questions that surround this corner of the globe. Greengrass’ stark realism is accompanied by an explosive and moving performance from Hanks, which only further cements both their places as greats in the industry. 9/10