Film review: Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks signs autographs as he arrives at the European Premiere of 'Captain Phillips' in London. Picture: AP
Tom Hanks signs autographs as he arrives at the European Premiere of 'Captain Phillips' in London. Picture: AP
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THE London Film Festival got off to a nerve-shredding start last night with the European premiere of Captain Phillips, a visceral account of the 2009 hijacking of a US cargo ship by Somali pirates that escalated into an intense, terrifying kidnapping situation.

Combining the full-tilt energy of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum with the rigorously even-handed, documentary-style verisimilitude of Bloody Sunday and United 93, director Paul Greengrass has brought the full weight of his skills to bear on proceedings, creating a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller that goes far beyond the story’s high-stakes flash-point moments.

His success in this respect is facilitated in a large part by an astonishing performance from Tom Hanks in the title role. Playing Richard Phillips as a cautious, hard-working family man who frets about the economy, the employment prospects of his graduate son and the rapidly changing and increasingly cut-throat nature of the freighter business, he digs deep to convey the steely reserve required by this ordinary man to get through this extraordinary situation. There are no false heroics or big movie star moments; instead Hanks connects us to the events on an emotional and very human level and Greengrass compliments him by refusing to serve up simplistic Hollywood-style judgments on the Somalis doing the hijacking.

Of course the other advantage of having Greengrass at the helm is his ability to put us in the chaotic throes of this hijacking and just watching the baffling logistics of such a low-tech assault on such massive cargo ship is a sight to behold. And yet, it’s the surprising simplicity of the film’s final moments that packs the biggest punch as Greengrass and Hanks deliver a masterclass in raw, in-the-moment filmmaking. It’s good as anything either has done and it elevates Captain Phillips to the level of genuine greatness.

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Max Martini

Rating: * * * * *