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Movie Review: Captain Phillips

October 11, 2013

Captain Phillips PosterCaptain Phillips – A Sony Pictures Release

Release Date: October 11th, 2013

Rated 14A for violence and disturbing content

Running time: 134 minutes

Paul Greengrass (dir.)

Billy Ray (screenplay)

Based on the book A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips

Henry Jackman (music)

Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips

Barkhad Abdi as Muse

Barkhad Abdirahman as Bilal

Faysal Ahmed as Najee

Mahat M. Ali as Elmi

Michael Chernus as Shane Murphy

Catherine Keener as Andrea Phillips

David Warshofsky as Mike Perry

Corey Johnson as Ken Quinn

Chris Mulkey as John Cronan

Captain Phillips

©Sony Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) tries to negotiate with Muse (Barkhad Abdi) in Captain Phillips.

Our reviews below:


Captain Phillips Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

There are no easy answers in Captain Phillips, as the film brilliantly and intensely brings to screen all of the desperate decisions that were made during the harrowing events of April 2009, when an American ship was hijacked by Somalian pirates.  This is an awards season contender that lives up to the buzz, and ranks among the best movies of the year.

Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is in command of the Alabama Maersk, a cargo ship travelling through the Horn of Africa, carrying clean drinking water and other supplies.  But their routine voyage takes a dark turn when their ship is taken over by a gang of Somalian pirates, led by the conflicted Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the poor teenager Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman), the violent Najee (Faysal Ahmed) and Elmi (Mahat M. Ali).  When Captain Phillips is taken hostage and held for ransom, the clock starts ticking as tensions rise amongst the men who are all desperate to find a way out, and the navy puts their own rescue mission into play.

There is constant tension throughout Captain Phillips, as director Paul Greengrass uses his signature style of handheld camerawork to keep us riveted by the action.  The audience is put right in the middle of every terrifying moment, as the danger and threat of violence reaches a boiling point.  The screenplay by Billy Ray offers a balanced and multilayered take on the events that were recounted firsthand in the book A Captain’s Duty, bringing these complex and fascinating characters to the screen.  Regardless of whether or not you remember how things played out in real life just over four years ago, the film is filled with wall to wall suspense, and packs a surprising emotional punch.

Tom Hanks is at the top of his game in Captain Phillips, delivering a brilliant performance as a man who is prepared to sacrifice himself to ensure the safety of his crew.  He remains miraculously calm throughout much of the tension, but as the situation grows increasingly more complicated, we start to see desperation and finally dread on his face, as he comes to terms with the fact that things likely won’t end smoothly.  First time actor Barkhad Abdi is also excellent in his challenging and layered role.  Although we don’t agree with their actions, we do feel sympathy for these young men who live in poverty and have nothing, making hard choices that are forced upon them by their warlords.

The final few scenes are powerful for the way that they play as high drama instead of heroics, leaving the audience just as shaken as the characters.  This isn’t a thriller that leaves us feeling triumphant, but rather a grippingly multilayered retelling of events that ends with the characters broken and not ready to recover.  These final moments are masterfully handled, closing the memorably tense Captain Phillips on a quietly unforgettable note.


Captain Phillips Review by Erin V.

**** (out of 4)

Based on the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the American cargo ship Maersk Alabama by armed Somali pirates, Captain Phillips is a tense film starring Tom Hanks in the title role, alongside a very strong cast, including newcomer Barkhad Abdi as pirate captain Muse.

When the pirates take Captain Phillips hostage in an enclosed lifeboat from the Alabama, the Navy is called in to try to find a way to rescue him – but through the tense final hour of the film, it is what is happening inside the little boat with only five on board that draws our attention, as the dialogue between the pirates and Phillips provide a glimpse into both sides.

The film is interesting in its showing of the pirates – these are guys (one of them only a young teen) who truly feel that they have nowhere else to go.  Working for a ‘boss’ they are sent out to capture ships for ransom.  As Muse says, his dream is to go to America one day – and you need money to do that.  It becomes a real world look at how things can escalate to a very unfortunate situation and makes us think about what leads up to them.

Captain Phillips boasts excellent performances all around.  It is filmed very well, with each shot framed with the ultimate tension, and creating a real contrast between the enclosed spaces the characters often find themselves in, with the expanse – and almost scary openness – of the ocean.  Even for those who know the real life incident (and being so recent, many will), the film still provides a tense drama and interesting look at the whole thing unfolding.  Everything about the film draws you in and keeps you engaged throughout, including a good score by Henry Jackman.  This film is sure to be getting some awards contention.


Captain Phillips Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Captain Phillips is a fascinating and suspenseful film, based on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips, who was kidnapped by Somali pirates in 2009.  Phillips (Tom Hanks) captains a cargo ship, the Alabama Maersk, which is moving through the Horn of Africa.  Meanwhile, in Somalia, a group of impoverished men are forced by a warlord to pirate any foreign ships, in order to pay off a debt.

Captain Phillips and his crew encounter four of these men, the leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the teenage tagalong Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman), the unstable Najee (Faysal Ahmed) and Elmi (Mahat M. Ali).  Things get suspenseful when they board the ship, and become really harrowing when they take Captain Phillips hostage in a lifeboat.

What makes Captain Phillips such a powerful film are the five main people involved.  Captain Phillips, whom the pirates nickname “Irish” due to his heritage, is a deeply compassionate man.  He sympathizes with the men who took him hostage, understanding that they are acting out of fear and famine.  Phillips calmly tried to negotiate with these men, trying to understand their situation.  After the teenage Bilal cuts his foot on a broken bottle, Phillips bandages the wound and talks to him like he would his own son.

The fascinating thing about Captain Phillips is that the film doesn’t portray a black and white view of good guys vs. bad guys.  While the pirates criminal actions are terrible, one can’t help but share Phillips’ sympathy for them.  One particularly feels for Muse, who is constantly picked on for being scrawny, and Bilal, the teenage pirate who just wants a better life.

Ultimately, Captain Phillips is a sobering look at the consequences of greed and the choices we make, which is obvious on the pirate’s side of things, but not so obvious on the affluent First World side of things.  This is pointed out when Muse explains they are hungry, in part because of huge trawlers depleting the fish stocks.  This is a thought provoking drama that is sure to get several Oscar nominations.


Captain Phillips Review by Maureen

**** (out of 4)

April 2009 was supposed to be just another routine cargo voyage for veteran sea merchant Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks).  After flying from his Vermont home, Phillips met up with his crew in Oman to board the cargo ship, the Alabama Maersk.  Captain Phillips was always aware that the ship’s journey from Oman to Kenya would take them through Somalian waters and that meant pirates were a potential risk.  Still, all the planning and emergency preparedness drills never fully prepare someone for when the worst possible scenario happens.

Based on the true story, director Paul Greengrass’ intensely suspenseful film Captain Phillips provides some insight into the minds of the Somali pirates and the incredibly level-headed Phillips, and this is a movie driven by a pair of powerful performances.  Tom Hanks is amazing in this role, and deserves any and all awards attention.  Also amazing is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as the lead pirate, Muse.

Once Muse and his disorganized team of pirates manage to get onboard the ship and take Captain Phillips hostage, the action and suspense is nonstop.  The interaction between the two men is dramatic and believable.  The interactions between the pirates themselves are also interesting.  As much as you despise these criminals, you also get where they’re coming from.  When the navy steps in during the incredibly tense last act of the film, it leaves viewers asking themselves how things could have gotten to this point where greed and desperation are calling the shots.

Captain Phillips is not always easy to watch at times, but is a film that is absolutely worth seeing, especially for the strong performances.


Captain Phillips Review by Tony

**** (out of 4)

Captain Phillips is based on the true story of the captain (Tom Hanks) whose container ship was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2009. Except for brief opening scenes of Phillips with his wife (Catherine Keener) and the pirates being pressed into service by a warlord, the film takes place on the water, using a real container ship and other vessels.

Though over two hours long, the film never lets up as director Paul Greengrass maintains a good balance between action and the relationships between Phillips and his crew, among the pirates, and especially between Phillips and the pirates. Tension rises to a climax once the American navy becomes involved in a race to the Somali coast. The production is first rate throughout, with a strong orchestral score from Henry Jackman, and the brilliant Hanks is supported by a good cast, particularly the young Somalis, all first-time actors, led by an award-worthy performance from Barkhad Abdi.


Consensus: Director Paul Greengrass delivers a multilayered take on the true story behind Captain Phillips, a powerful and intense film that features a brilliant performance from Tom Hanks and excellent supporting work from Barkhad Abdi.  **** (Out of 4)

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