This sits bang in the middle of a 4.5 and a 5 rating. Difficult. I keep swinging between the two.
The short and spoiler free version:
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Overall: Fantastic thrilling opening and brilliant acting throughout. Real and impressive environment.
Summary: Follows the true story of US Captain Phillips when his vessel the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali Pirates in 2009.
The beginning section of the film, from the section set on the Maersk Alabama, is absolutely fantastic, perfectly acted, and thoroughly compelling watching. If my eyes had been the ladder the pirates used to board they would have been all on board very fast and very smoothly. And as an audience, we are.
Captain Phillips comes across as a likeably strict captain with care for his crew and cargo and is from the start alert for danger. He’s a smart man, showing quick thinking when bluffing military support during the approach of the two Somalian skiffs, and organising his crew both before and subtly during the attack. He’s easy to root for, and even if we know from the outset that the pirates board the ship, at every moment we wonder when or if he will get the upper hand because Tom Hanks’ in-the-present acting is so convincing. The pirate leader’s sharp suspicion of his ‘tricks’ and ruthless demeanor makes these two characters play off each other excellently on screen. Speaking of which I really want to give a lot of credit to Barkhad Abdi for this acting as the somewhat sympathetic but innately dangerous pirate leader Muse who feels threateningly unpredictable from the moment his character is introduced.
Visually the film slows after the exit from the tense exploration of the Alabama and Phillips is taken hostage on the lifeboat he lends the pirates so they can leave. This is my single point of wavering with the film because whilst obviously following the realism of its basis, from a film standpoint it does undeniably lose pace from the opening section. The later presence of the military also changes the feel of the film from a tense thriller to a variation of character-study-under-pressure. It is still excellent. I waver.
The scene that sticks with me the most is at the very end, where Phillips is being attended to by medical staff aboard the safety of the Navy ship. His relief and latent shock was for me one of the most perfectly tuned acting moments I have seen in a thriller, especially given the fact it’s a journey we have just shared with him. I have mixed feelings towards the treatment of the pirates at the end – I cannot deny that I felt sadness, especially for the younger lad, but at the same time I don’t think I can say that this mixed sympathy detracts from the film, it’s simply part of the story, take it or leave it.
In conclusion, a great film that I would definitely watch again. Over and out.