Back in 2009, Captain Richard Phillips helmed a large cargo ship called the Maersk Alabama out of Oman with a route around the Horn of Africa to Mombasa. As they pass a little too close to the coast of Somalia – a detail which actual crew members suggest that Captain Phillips is to blame for, and thus shouldn't be portrayed as any hero – two small skiffs appear in the distance on their sonar. A single pirate ship manages to latch on with their ladder, and armed with AK-47s they have little trouble capturing the Maersk Alabama’s main deck and control room. The unquestionable leader of the pirates Muse (Barkhad Abdi, a Somali actor new to big screen) tells Phillips at gunpoint that he is the captain of the ship now.
Captain Phillips tries his best to keep the crew safe and the pirates satisfied through negotiation and appeasement, later even seemingly offering himself up for their taking. The crew hide down in the hold, and Phillips tries his best to keep their presence unknown as he is forced to lead Muse around the ship. The climax of the film is a long and incredibly tense series of scenes in which Phillips is taken by Muse and two other pirates into the small escape pod and shot out to sea. With the piracy becoming a bigger story, the US Navy finally arrives on the scene, and we are presented with a terrifically tense finale.
Paul Greengrass directs with all of his usual tools out in full display; such as his use of shaky hand-held cameras (which only Greengrass can truly pull off) or the intense fusion of truth and drama. In Captain Phillips Greengrass tells the story quite truthful to reality, yet somehow in the story and through the performances finds depth where there otherwise might not be – take many of Muse and Phillips scenes of extended dialogue, where they discuss each others’ jobs at hand and Greengrass finds universal recognition in the concept of a hard day's work of serving some boss.
In the end Captain Phillips surprised me for its excellent pacing and incredibly tense take on true events. Tom Hanks gives a great performance, as does his fellow cast. Paul Greengrass has crafted yet another fine film here, making Captain Phillips one of the best thrillers of the year.