One trick that has always been used by Hollywood filmmakers is to introduce the villain from the point-of-view of the film’s protagonist, at face value, so that the audience will feel merely fear of hatred towards the character. In recent years, however, visionaries like Christopher Nolan have shown the audience their first glimpse of the antagonist from the antagonist’s perspective to , perhaps unconsciously, make the audience slightly sympathetic towards them. One could say this is what Paul Greengrass does in Captain Phillips, by setting up the stories of Tom Hanks’ Richard Phillips and Barkhad Abdi’s Somali pirate Muse simultaneously, but Muse is not the film’s villain. The villain of this film, though never directly referred to, is the inequality and cultural issues that force Muse and his team to take Phillips hostage. These issues are not what Captain Phillips is about. It is about two men placed in a very intense situation (by one’s doing) and what happens from there, and boy, is it a great film!
Greengrass has been making extremely high-quality thrillers for years, most of which have been better than the last. This continues this trend, bettering both Green Zone and, in my opinion, the somewhat overrated Bourne sequels. Despite being over 130 minutes long and practically set in real-time, at absolutely no point does the pace slow down. This can be contributed to both the superb performances from the leads and the terrifically well-structured story and script. Phillips is on his ship within ten minutes, but it’s another 20 before Muse arrives, and soon enough the film is finished. The dramatic final scenes are possibly the most intense of the year so far, as the audience’s immediate connection with Hanks’ character is made use of. This review was unaware of the details of how this story ended, as many audience members may be, which helps the film to have a deeper impact that, say, last year’s Zero Dark Thirty, the conclusion of which was known to all.
Barkhad Abdi and the supporting Somali actors were complete amateurs and unknowns prior to this film, and the fact that Abdi is able to so impressively hold his own beside one of the most charismatic and experienced actors in the world is a sign of his extraordinary talent. It would be deeply unfortunate if, like Precious‘ Gabourey Sidibe, The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin and maybe even Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s Quevenzhané Wallis, he drifts out of memory in a few months and falls back on small TV roles- or maybe not acting at all. He will almost certainly receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination, although the studio should really push for Best Actor for both he and Hanks.
Captain Phillips could not be more gripping a drama if Tom Hanks’ hand reached out of the screen and grabbed you by the throat, which is at times what you feel this film is doing. Hanks doesn’t exactly give a ‘subtle’ performance, but that’s just not what he does- and it’s certainly not what this role requires. For the first time in ages, it’s safe to say that a film about pirates is one of the best motion pictures of the year!