Wednesday, 9 October 2013



Release Date: 18 October 2013 (UK)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Running Time: 134 Minutes
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmd, Madam M. Ali
Screening Reviewed: London Film Festival Opening Night Gala Press Screening

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

Following on from the high-adrenaline, taught frenzy of his Bourne series, and having previously so successfully dipped into docu-drama with the likes of Bloody Sunday and United 93 (nabbing an Oscar nomination for Directing in the process), it is unsurprising that Brit director Paul Greengrass proves the perfect helmer for this gripping and at times surprisingly emotional adaptation of the real-life hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship at the hands of Somali Pirates which took place back in 2009. 

Although based, with by all accounts notable fidelity, on real life events, it is evident from early on that we are in quintessential Greengrass territory and from the facts and actuality he has unearthed and crafted a supremely satisfying cinematic experience. The innate dramatic contouring of events that unfolded may indeed lend themselves perfectly to what is at times an almost overbearingly tense and gripping thriller, but it is Greengrass’ natural flair and affinity throughout for such genre work that really compels Captain Phillips into being one of the most captivating and efficient drama-thrillers of recent years. Greengrass is on finest form here; applying all of his sensibilities and intuition for action, tension and indeed character that he has cultivated through his work on the likes of Bourne and United 93 into what feels his most complete and rounded piece of work to date. And whilst it may lack some of United 93’s devastating clout in particular, it remains a thoroughly accessible and decidedly human piece of cinema masterfully married with a consistently gripping, audience-friendly mainstream slant.

Tom Hanks plays the titular protagonist, and whilst it has come to be de facto for him to deliver consistently excellent performances, his relatively passive turn here is something of a minor revelation in and of itself, deftly moving and memorable in its authenticity. With the exception of an initial spar of wits and nautical tactics with the pirates as Phillips desperately attempts to prevent their boarding of his ship, Hanks’ turn is mostly reactionary and somewhat subdued for a considerable portion of the film. This is not Tom Hanks: Action Hero, or Jason Bourne taken to sea, but rather one of Hollywood’s elite giving a beautifully nuanced turn as an everyday man pitted in exceptional circumstances. Without wishing to unduly spoil what is a beautiful performance and character trajectory, by the time the credits roll there are scenes and moments courtesy of Hanks that are so rawly human and surprisingly moving that I would be neither surprised nor disheartened to see him pick up yet another clutch of award nominations come the new year. 

A film of two halves somewhat, the first hour of Captain Phillips deals mostly with the boarding and attack on the Maersk Alabama, being a tense cat-and-mouse thriller of sorts which easily surpasses Argo in my estimations as possibly the most arresting and nerve-shredding hour of cinema I have sat through in recent years. The second half of the film dips in pacing somewhat, but deliberately so to allow the characters and claustrophobia to take hold and let the escalating tensions and crisis begin to compound on themselves. Phillips and his captors take to the fore and character, along with a gradually blooming sense of unease, paranoia and dread, cemented with intervening military action and imposing ultimatums, are given chance to blossom.

Particularly commendable is the approach taken with the four Somali Pirates. In addition to four uniformly terrific performances, particularly an unsettlingly sinister yet strangely humane turn by Barkhad Abdi as Muse, leader of the troupe, and a genuinely intimidating presence in Faysal Ahmed as terrifying loose cannon Najee, the film should be commended for its non-typical approach to these characters. There are shades of empathy and justification interwoven into the occasional scene or interplay between themselves and Phillips, yet generally speaking the film does a genuinely impressive job of treading a decidedly believable line with the Pirates - they are not mindless, cookie-cutter mercenary villainy, nor are they undermined as is so often a pitfall in films such as this with shoehorned, saccharine attempts to make us empathise with their cause and actions. These are selfish, greedy, violent individuals who may be doing what they are out of necessity as much as choice, but their actions and mentalities are in no way sugarcoated or excused. Everytime Captain Phillips seems to be going down a regrettably sentimentalised route with its antagonists in particular, it usually proceeds to hit us round the face with a refreshing slap of stark reality and brutality.

An electrifying thriller from the offset right through to its exhausting and emotionally draining finale, and buoyed with terrific and superbly judged performances which are of a sophistication and quality which genuinely transcend this particular genre and sub-genre of moviemaking, Captain Phillips is a truly riveting and consistently enthralling piece of mainstream moviemaking. Paul Greengrass again proves himself to be the go-to guy for sophisticated yet entertaining docu-drama and action fare, and as per his previous outings the technical approach to this highly visceral and kinetic outing is supremely impressive in regards to cinematography and editing in particular. With any justice Hanks, Greengrass and their team should be clearing space on their mantles come awards season, as in Captain Phillips they have crafted not only one of the definitive thrillers of recent memory, but also one of the most accomplished, impressive and entertaining movies of the year so far.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 Stars)

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The 57th BFI London Film Festival runs in full from 09 - 20 October 2013 in partnership with American Express. Press Screenings for the festival began 23 September 2013. 

For more information on the festival and to book tickets for public screenings visit

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