Everyone knows that British director Paul Greengrass is the authority when it comes to recreating overwrought and distressing real-life events (the painful 9/11 plane hijacking in United 93) or giving us thrilling action and intense realism in big blockbuster franchises (The Bourne series). So it should come as no surprise that his latest film is an unadulterated adaptation of Richard Phillips’ fact-based pirate hijacking memoir-A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea.
A true story of the hijacking of container ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in April 2009, two time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks takes on the role of the titular Captain Phillips who had to endure a four day stand-off between the pirates and the U.S. Navy. It’s pretty compelling stuff from the get-go, but made all the more gripping thanks to masterly crafted story-telling and one Mr Tom Hanks.
“Hollywood’s Nicest Guy” is at his career best here, with his Oscar winning acting prowess on subtle, faultless display. Hanks has played many a regular guy forced to be a hero in his long illustrious career, but experience and age has provided him with this new but essential curt edge and overall gruff. Oscar will surely be calling, but it will not only for Hanks. There could also be a Best Supporting Actor nomination in the works for Barkhad Abdi. And deservedly so. Playing the Somali pirate Muse, he delivers a painfully convincing, layered and barbarous performance. The first time actor who was discovered from a Somali community in Minneapolis, more than holds his own against an A-lister, his ferocious intensity playing off Hanks’ distress perfectly.
Greengrass’ signature directing style is in full effect, the jerky handheld cameras capturing every bit of action in documentary style, giving his actors free rein of movement. It is a method he has honed to a fine art, and the technique works to its fullest extent here. In real life, several crew members have filed a lawsuit against the shipping company, their main grievance that the heroic Captain Phillips actually put their lives at risk by wilfully sailing into dangerous waters. But none of that drama can take away from both Hanks and Abdi’s excellent performances, as well as Greengrass’ dignified direction and commitment to authenticity. See you at the Oscars!