‘Captain Phillips’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 9th, 2014 at 6:26 pm,

Captain Phillips Movie Tom Hanks Captain Phillips Review

Greengrass and Hanks succeed in Captain Phillips with an astute and exciting action-thriller/biopic.

Captain Phillips recounts the harrowing story of real-life US Captain Richard Phillips whose cargo ship, the MV Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by Somali pirates back in 2009. Headed for Mombasa, Kenya with a crew of 20 and loaded with over 15,000 metric tons of cargo, the MV Maersk Alabama was attacked by a group of hijackers roughly 250 miles outside of Eyl. Despite various anti-pirating protocols performed by Phillips and crew members, four Somali hijackers successfully boarded the cargo ship.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) instructs his shipmates to hide in a fortified location where they can control specific MV Maersk Alabama engineering functions – should the hijackers reach the bridge. However, when Phillips is taken hostage along with a handful of unarmed crew members by Somali leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the Captain is forced into a series of life-threatening decisions in an effort to buy his crew time (and maybe even save his own life) as US Naval forces plan a rescue effort.

Captain Phillips Corey Johnson Tom Hanks Captain Phillips Review

Tom Hanks in ‘Captain Phillips”

For the film adaptation, screenwriter Billy Ray drew from Phillips’ biographical retelling of the event (with co-author Stephan Talty), A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea. Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) sits in the director’s chair and, like much of his previous work, provides a tense and engaging big screen adaptation (as well as a lot of shaky cam) – one that is elevated even higher by a phenomenal performance from Tom Hanks as the film builds to an emotional climax.

Given that Captain Phillips is a biopic with a very well-known ending – one that relies heavily on suspense to drive an otherwise straightforward retelling – certain moviegoers may have trouble separating their familiarity with the subject from scene-to-scene tension. Yet, even for those who know the in and outs of the core narrative, Greengrass (aided by a solid cast) ensures that no character moment is wasted – with poignant as well as potent exchanges between the principle players.

Additionally, the various stages of the real-life hijacking and subsequent hostage event (which lasted four days in total) allows for a diverse batch of set piece movies moments – as the situation extends from the MV Maersk Alabama to US military operations. Greengrass moves effortlessly from intimate moments between Phillips and the Somali pirates to the efforts of US responders, weaving all of the threads into an exceptionally smart and captivating final act.

Captain Phillips Barkhad Abdi Muse Captain Phillips Review

Barkhad Abdi as Muse in ‘Captain Phillips’

Even with three decades on film, Tom Hanks still manages to surprise in, arguably, one of his best performances to date. The first half of the movie paints Phillips as a no-nonsense Captain that has the brains (and the stones) to manage the hijacking situation and keep his crew out of harm’s way. Though, it is the second half that really enables Hanks to shine: chronicling the complicated dynamic between Captain and Somali captors as well as following Phillips as he begins to break down and genuinely fear for his life. It is fair to say that the final half-hour of Captain Phillips includes some of the most evocative work that Hanks has ever delivered for film.

In addition to Hanks, the success of the film rests heavily on first-time actor, Barkhad Abdi, playing Muse, the leader of the Somali pirate crew. A less ambitious adaptation would have simply written-off the four pirates as soulless villains but Greengrass, aided by Ray’s script (and Phillips’ intimate account), walks a very careful but impactful line – managing to both humanize the hijackers and hold them accountable for their violent actions. Abdi gets the majority of the screen time, shining in a number of key moments that are both haunting and fascinating. Supporting players Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali are also strong as the other three pirates, Bilal, Najee, and Elmi, respectively.

Captain Phillips Tom Hanks Barkhad Abdirahman Captain Phillips Review

Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi in ‘Captain Phillips’

Greengrass includes a number of engrossing shots that help orient viewers to how these events unfolded, especially when the US Navy becomes involved, and sharp staging keeps on-screen drama exciting. That said, viewers who struggle with the director’s use of shaky cam in the Bourne series will likely be equally disoriented during a viewing of Captain Phillips. The choice is a credit to the experience, and keeps anxiety high, but there are virtually no-steady cam shots – and the added movement of ocean waves on top of shaky cam could mean a nauseating viewing for especially sensitive moviegoers. Overall, it’s a worthwhile trade-off but one that will, no doubt, discourage certain watchers who are on the fence.

Captain Phillips is also playing in IMAX format and offers tangible benefits for anyone willing to invest in premium tickets – though it is not essential this round. The IMAX sound and scale present further immersion than what you would get in a regular theater.

Captain Phillips Somali Pirates Muse Bilal Najee Elmi Captain Phillips Review

The Somali pirates in ‘Captain Phillips’

Greengrass and Hanks succeed in Captain Phillips with an astute and exciting action-thriller/biopic. Moviegoers who are interested in seeing the real-life MV Maersk Alabama story recreated on the big screen will likely be satisfied with the assembled package of clever filmmaking choices and a phenomenal pair of star performances.

If you’re still on the fence about Captain Phillips, check out the trailer below:


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Captain Phillips runs 134 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use. Now playing in standard and IMAX theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Captain Phillips episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
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  1. “It is fair to say that the final half-hour of Captain Phillips includes some of the most evocative work that Hanks has ever delivered for film.”

    That is a bold statement, Mr Kendrick. I will hold you to that a week from now.

    • I know some people might disagree but I stand by it. Let us know what you think!

      • My thoughts exactly Ajeno. I was okay with the idea of catching this on blu ray until Ben made that statement about Hanks. Considering what’s coming in November, I have to be choosy about what I see now. So there’s that and the fact that I absolutely must see Gravity again, and now I’m conflicted. :/

  2. Besides some parts of the film that strayed away from the initial story, in particular the people planning how to get captain phillips. It was undeniably long and i probably wont watch it again but it was well worth it.

  3. Does the film show how Captain Phillips disobeyed orders to stay clear of pirate territory or than his crew has filed a lawsuit against him?

    • Yeah they showed a part where they sent out an email saying that pirates were gonna be in that area, & he kinda just brushed it off

      • @Taylor

        Yep, but that’s about all they showed. They didn’t make it clear that he was told to stay clear of the area, it was made to seem like they had to go through it. The only part where they showed a disagreement between the crew and him was how the crew wanted to turn the ship around and go back to their original port but Captain Phillips made it a point that they had to complete the journey so he decided to continue through the risky area…

        • Figured they’d just gloss over it

          • @cranium

            Honestly though, I’d prefer it this way rather it get too sidetracked and seem like it’s trying to put Phillips responsible for the pirates’ actions rather than holding the pirates accountable for their own actions…

            • I think I’d rather him feel responsible for it

              • @cranium

                Sorry, but I do not agree that illegal pirating should dictate legal shipping routes. Yes, the smart thing would have been to avoid it, but ultimately, it is the pirates who are responsible, and nobody else…

                • I mean storytelling wise, him feeling responsible would be great motivating force to better understand his actions passed simply “I’m the captain”

                  • @cranium

                    Mmm, probably. But I guess either way, they needed the actual guy to help with the development of the movie, so I guess they didn’t want to make him feel like his character was being put on the firing squad…

                    • True…

            • @KenJ – Yup. I completely agree with you.


    • That was an oversight on my part. The film is only playing in 2D and IMAX. I had remembered seeing a 3D trailer but the final film is only 2D IMAX. I updated the info accordingly.

      • Can you guys remove spammers?

        • We have a moderator but some still slip through and we usually get them cleaned out as they creep up. I’ve removed the one from this thread.

          • I think fearitself is referring to SmartFilm for posting his link.

            While I would not call it spam, I do think it is poor form to
            promote your own review in comments for someone else’s.

            • Yeah i once did that and was instantly told by vic not to.

  4. I had a sense this was good. Great review, Ben. Your 4.5 stars is case closed.
    I have actually not seen a Tom Hanks movie in quite some time, not counting
    Toy Story 3 of course, and it looks like Tom reached back and delivers here.

  5. Greengrass shakey cam ruined two bourne movies for me, I’ll stay far away from this one. never understood how people can think that’s good camera work.

    • The guy is a journalist who has been to a combat zone once
      That’s why he likes shakey cam
      Because the audience feels they right there

  6. Saw this in a screening, definitely a great film.

  7. Have seen Gravity and Captain Phillips. Both are excellent films, but for overall performances, I’d give the edge to Captain P. Great to see these films doing well to send a message to Hollywood that we’re sick of comic book movies!. It’s the first time in a long time I’ve seen such great movies in one month …ever.

  8. Looks excellent! Going on my Netflix list for sure!!!

  9. I’ve just finished watching the movie. It was a brilliant masterpiece! Tom Hanks MUST win an Oscar.

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