REVIEW: Tom Hanks captivates in ‘Captain Phillips’

REVIEW: Tom Hanks captivates in ‘Captain Phillips’

Photo: YouTube

Genre:  Biography, Crime, Drama | Run Time: 134 min | Rated: PG-13
Director: Paul Greengrass | Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhard Abdi, Michael Chernus

By: George Wolf

If the story of Captain Phillips wasn’t true, someone in Hollywood would have dreamed it up for a new Paul Greengrass adventure film starring Tom Hanks. That movie would have been pretty good.

The reality-based version, though, is pretty great.

In 2009, Phillips was at the helm of the Mearsk Alabama when it was attacked and boarded by Somali pirates. Failing to take control of the ship, the pirates took Phillips hostage, holding him in a lifeboat for days until a Navy SEAL team did what Navy SEALs do.

As this is not a documentary, some of the details may be exaggerated, a fact which takes nothing away from the film’s effectiveness. Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, United 93) utilizes the shaky camera movements and extreme closeups he’s known for to create solid tension early on, and then to slowly increase the pressure as events unfold.

In much the same vein as the fact- based films Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, Captain Phillips chronicles a crisis from recent history, and tells the story well enough to make you bite your nails over an outcome you already know.

Ironically, that story gets off to a bit of a rocky start. In setting up a contrast between the respective worlds of Phillips and the lead pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi, in a stunning acting debut), Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, State of Play) seem a bit hurried.

Not only is Phillips’s pre-trip routine very reminiscent of Hanks’s pre-flight scenes in Castaway, but, more importantly, in attempting to explain the attack, the opening minutes skirt with reducing the entire ordeal to little more than black savages against white heroes.
If you’ll pardon the pun, the ship is righted once the attack begins. From the moment Phillips spies the pirate boat through his binoculars, the tension is palpable. Greengrass creates an effective hide-and-seek between the pirates and the crew of the Alabama, culminating with the capture of Phillips himself.

The claustrophobic depiction of the days inside the lifeboat, mixed with scenes of a rescue being planned and implemented are nothing short of gripping, as Hanks delivers what is possibly the best work of his career.

His status as Hollywood heavyweight and all around swell guy has at times made it easy to forget that Hanks is damn good. This performance slaps the memory back into you. Hanks gives Phillips the humanity needed to ground a tale such as this, and drives the entire film into your psyche with one of the finest depictions of post-trauma shock ever seen on film.

By the time you are breathing a sigh of relief, you can’t imagine the story of Captain Phillips in better hands.


Read more movie reviews at

Recent Headlines

in Black Friday, National

WATCH: How holiday shopping can help charities


In the frenzy of holiday shopping, consumers are doing more than getting great deals, they’re also using coupons to help raise money for a number of worthy causes.

in Local

Runners warm up for Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot


The Thanksgiving run is in its 43rd year, and charity proceeds will benefit Ithaca Loaves and Fishes.

in Black Friday, National

Thanksgiving getaway: Cheap gas, high security


Millions of Americans embarked on their annual Thanksgiving travels on Wednesday, with security at airports, New York City's parade festivities and other venues expected to be heightened amid jitters after the Paris attacks.

in Local

Ithaca man breaks protection order, uncooperative with police


State Police say they arrested Michael Delario because he had already been charged with contempt once before.

in Local

Southern Tier man gets prison time for hazardous waste violation


Brian Davis, of Owego, admitted to improperly storing hazardous materials, setting them on fire to evaporate them, in violation of federal laws