LFF First Looks: Captain Phillips

"They're not here to fish ....."

“They’re not here to fish …..”


Title:                           Captain Phillips

Certificate:                12A

Director:                    Paul Greengrass

Major Players:          Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

Out Of Five?              4.5


Is Captain Phillips this year’s Argo?  We won’t really know for some months but, at the moment, it’s certainly on the cards.  If nothing else, they make classy companion pieces.

In 2009, Captain Richard Phillips was in command of the Maersk Alabama, a container ship bound for Mombassa.  A few days into the voyage, the ship is taken over by Somali pirates, whose sole aim is money.  Phillips is taken hostage and and finds himself with his captors in a covered life boat bound for Somalia.  His chances of survival don’t look good …..

You don’t have to look far for the parallels – a suspenseful rescue story based on real events and with a very authentic feel.  The timing of both films’ releases is almost the same as well – just ahead of the usual awards season – but, ultimately, only time will tell if Captain Phillips achieves the same critical and popular success as last year’s big winner from Ben Affleck.

It can’t fail to be in the running.  Paul Greengrass has given us a nail-shredding ride, full of details that hark back to his documentary background and an exemplary performance from Hanks in the title role.

This is where I have to fess up.  I’ve never really understood his appeal as an actor.  There was nothing especially wrong – he just didn’t do it for me.  But we’re all allowed to change our mind and his performance as Phillips is nigh-on flawless.  It hits the heights in the gut-wrenching rescue scenes, but the time he spent with the real Richard Phillips when preparing for the role really pays off.  At the start of the film, we see the family man, devoted to his wife and kids, but as soon as he’s on the ship, the professional persona takes over.  It’s not one you warm to – he’s impenetrable, focussed and single-minded – but you do respect his obvious experience and authority.  And, as he clearly commands the total loyalty of his much more likeable second-in-command, he can’t be all bad.  They’re both the type of guys you’d want on your side in a crisis.

And a crisis is exactly what they get, in the shape of a band of Somali pirates.  Having shown us Phillips’ home life, Greengrass goes to some lengths to make sure we understand them the Somalis just as well.  They’re fisherman, living in poverty and in fear of their ruthless warlords, who force them to hi-jack ships for money.  Naively, they believe they’ll be paid and have a better life, but it’s only the warlords who profit.

When the pirates take over the ship, it’s the start of a head-to-head between Phillips and Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who are more similar than they would like to admit.  Both have to lead a group of sometimes-rebellious men to get their respective jobs done.  Muse is intelligent and shrewd but, ultimately, not as clever as he thinks he is.  His talk of living in America is loaded with irony.  He gets there in the end and is still there.  In prison.

The tension starts building as soon as the pirates approach the ship and it keeps building.  By the time the credits rolled, I was exhausted and I know I wasn’t the only one.  Even more interesting was that the film was so absorbing I didn’t realise quite how tense I was!

Regardless of whether or not Captain Phillips is in the running for Best Picture accolades, it’s increasingly likely that Hanks will find himself up against the mighty Robert Redford in the Best Actor category.  Irresistably ironic, when you consider that Redford plays another man in a covered lifeboat whose misfortunes being with a container – thankfully, not a Maersk one.

Who’d want to be on the judging panel?


Captain Phillips is on general release around the UK from Friday, 18 October.







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