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Captain Phillips - Review

Captain Phillips

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

PAUL Greengrass returns to the type of unmissable form he displayed in United 93 with the mesmerising Captain Phillips.

Inspired by the true story of the American shipping container captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009, this combines thoughtful characterisation with an awareness of the politics involved and pulse-pounding excitement. It is by far and away one of the most intense and draining films of the year and all the more memorable for it.

What’s more, the film doesn’t just unfold from the perspective of Captain Phillips (played by Tom Hanks) but also from that of the pirates and, in particular, their captain Muse (played by Barkhad Abdi).

In that regard, viewers get to see the stakes from both sides and how events quickly spiral beyond the control of both parties.

Hanks, for his part, offers up a tour-de-force that’s sure to place him firmly in Oscar contention. His Captain Phillips is very much an everyman thrust into an extraordinary situation, whose quick thinking initially yields positive results.

His sense of fear and desperation is also palpable throughout but it’s only late on that we see just what kind of toll events have taken and the results are emotionally devastating. It’s a bravura moment that is almost certain to reduce viewers to tears. But then such is the intensity of Greengrass’s direction that you feel you’re in the midst of the action.

Abdi, too, offers a complex portrait of a man driven by a different kind of survival instinct, who has an intelligence to rival Phillips and a fierce desire to win their battle of wills and make millions.

Billy Ray’s script takes time to examine the backgrounds of both men through the verbal interplay between them, which also serves as an appropriate metaphor for the differences between their countries of origin.

Greengrass, meanwhile, begins layering on the tension early and often cranks it up in breathless fashion, seldom loosening his grip on our attention throughout the two hour plus running time and also allowing later events to unfold from the perspectives of the US Navy and SEAL teams tasked with performing the rescue.

It is, quite simply, breathtaking how the director exerts such a masterful grip on the story’s many components while remaining true to the people involved.

As a result, Captain Phillips is a stunning achievement that is as close to perfect as you can get. It’s also one of the best opening films in the history of the London Film Festival.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 135mins
UK Release Date: October 18, 2013