REVIEW: ‘Captain Phillips’

Oscar season is starting early this year as “Captain Phillips” will more than likely be nominated for an award or two.

“Phillips” is a dramatization that recreates the events of a ship hijacking that took place in Spring 2009. The movie follows the title character, Captain Richard Phillips, who is in command of the United States ship Maersk Alabama. During the time it was sailing near the coast of Africa, the ship was boarded by four armed Somali pirates and was taken over.

During the ordeal, Phillips was eventually taken hostage by the pirates in a lifeboat.

The event became a top priority for the United States Navy and the military was soon involved. The story begins with Phillips, played by Tom Hanks, starting his journey and the ship launching to the end of the whole ordeal, where the military is given orders to take action.

The plot of “Phillips” is split into two equally- exciting halves. The first half of the movie introduces the audience to not only Phillips, but also the pirate captain Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi. During the first half, the film chronicles both men’s relationships with their crews and it eventually turns into a mind game of who can keep control of the ship.

When the hijacking is attempted and eventually becomes successful, Phillips does everything he can to stop the pirates from coming aboard and then does all he can to stop them from finding his crew who are in hiding. This causes the time aboard the cargo ship to feel almost like a chess match between the two captains, with Phillips trying to outwit the pirates, and it’s very intense to watch.

The second half, true to the real life story, follows the period of time where Phillips was eventually taken hostage in a life boat for ransom, while his crew was able to make it away safely. During this half of the movie, two series of events come into play.

The main one being the back and forth dialogue between the two captains, which helps viewers understand both men very well which adds another level of depth.

The other part of the second half shows the mobilization of the military, and the strategy that was set up and eventually executed to free Phillips of his hostage status.

Both sections of this second half are very intense, as the audience is shown various levels of desperation. Pirate Captain Muse is desperate to finish the job he was sent to do by the warlords he works for, the military is desperate to stop the lifeboat before it reaches the Somali shores and Phillips is desperate to live.

These aspects work best thanks to the cast, especially the unknown Somali actors, including Barkhad Abdi, who perfectly portray the gravity of the situation. In fact, the entire cast is very impressive, as emotions of fear are shown, displaying just how frantic many of the real life situations most likely were. Things aren’t just shown as good and evil either, both sides have some real depth.

Hanks delivers his best performance in years, from beginning to end he is able to capture the raw emotion that a person in that situation would be feeling. His acting is powerful and adds weight to the movie which brings it to a very high level. His interactions with Abdi is very well done too, with the two actors performing at their highest as their characters square off.

Director Paul Greengrass, who directed both “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” not only shows off his ability to portray action through a camera, but the emotional side as well. His camera work is very well done, especially for what he had to work with in the second half when a good portion of time was spent in the life boat.

“Phillips” works as a very intense, fast paced film that displays the bravery of the real man who survived the ordeal. There is great filmmaking on all fronts, from directing to the acting.

The film is a drama, capturing the views from both captains which adds to the depth, and at the same time it has the feel of an action. It’s one of the most exciting films this year and has a level of humanity that can make an audience highly invested in the characters. “Captain Phillips” gets a 5 out of 5.

This review was first published in the Oct. 11, 2013 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News.

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Author: Matthew Liedke

My name is Matthew Liedke. I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, but I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I now write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead where I studied journalism and film. Outside of film, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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