By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Yet another fall movie keepin’ it real…
In a movie season that seems dominated or at least characterized by docudramas either based on or inspired by real people and actual events (The Butler, Rush, Parkland, The Fifth Estate, Haute Cuisine), Captain Phillips comes aboard and takes its place as a competent real-life race-against-time nail-biter.
Captain Phillips is a biographical action thriller that takes its title from its central character, Richard Phillips (played by Tom Hanks), the real-life skipper of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship, who was taken hostage by a small band of Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in 2009 while traveling around the Horn of Africa, in the first incident involving pirates capturing an American vessel in nearly 200 years.
It’s a cat-and-mouse, First-World-versus-Third-World conflict in which the armed Somalis (played by newcomers Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat M. Ali) –- four poverty-stricken fishermen who didn’t know each other before they were recruited for this gig -– board the unarmed (because of maritime regulations) vessel and hold the crew for ransom in a standoff with US Navy warships.
Phillips is a Massachusetts family man –- Catherine Keener plays his wife in the film’s brief opening segment -– who leaves on a voyage during which he and his crew will be transporting cargo, some of it relief supplies to Somalia, around the Gulf of Aden.
Director Paul Greengrass has long since demonstrated his skill with suspenseful action thrillers (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Bloody Sunday, United 93, Green Zone).
Here, he revisits the true story of mounting tension during a hijacking and subsequent kidnapping — adapted from co-writer Phillips’ autobiographical book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, into a script by Billy Ray — that becomes a battle of survival involving desperate men in a desperate situation.
The film does not generate quite the same level of excruciating suspense as some of Greengrass’ previous triumphs, but it nonetheless holds us hostage as it proceeds.
The dependable Hanks anchors the proceedings as the film’s only fully realized character and doesn’t disappoint, even if his role is less demanding than some of his earlier award-winning work (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump), but he finds nuances in what could have been a one-note role. His everyman character’s lower-case heroism surfaces as his a harrowing ordeal unfolds and an ordinary man finds resources he didn’t realize he had during extraordinary circumstances.
As for the four Somali immigrants, they are remarkably effective in their first professional acting gigs.
So we’ll hijack 2½ stars out of 4 for the real-life action thriller Captain Phillips, a solid if unsurprising saga of survival at sea.