Captain Phillips (PG-13)

Tom Hanks is in serious trouble in a scene from 'Captain Phillips.
Tom Hanks is in serious trouble in a scene from 'Captain Phillips.

Movie Info

Rating: * * * 1/2

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Chris Mulkey, Catherine Keener.

Director: Paul Greengrass.

Screenwriter: Billy Ray. Based on the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty.

Producers: Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, Scott Rudin.

A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 134 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

In Captain Phillips, director Paul Greengrass pulls off the same remarkable feat he accomplished with United 93: He takes a true story in which the outcome is already known and transforms it into a gripping, wrenching, devastating thriller. This one plays like an enormous punch to the gut. The movie is based on Richard Phillips’ book-length account of the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship by Somali pirates, the first such attack on a U.S. vessel in 200 years. But although the scenario might seem limited in dramatic potential, screenwriter Billy Ray ( Shattered Glass, State of Play) takes a journalistic approach to the story, turning it into a procedural in which every detail contributes to the whole: the way the ragtag group of pirates comes together; the day-to-day operations of the mammoth ship; the limited resources Phillips had to defend his boat against an attack and the ingenious tactics he employed in order to save his crew.

Like United 93, Captain Phillips doesn’t take political sides. Greengrass approaches the story from the center out, showing instead of telling and focusing on the humanity of its protagonists instead of their ideals. The movie allows us to interpret everyone’s actions instead of telling us what to think and how to feel about them. We come to understand why the skinny Muse (the terrific Barkhad Abdi), the leader of the four-man pirate gang, feels justified in trying to rob the cargo ship (he’s a small-time fisherman who resents big corporations draining the resources of the African coast; he’s resentful of what he perceives to be American imperialism). We learn exactly how a few armed men on a rickety speedboat could manage to board and commandeer such an enormous craft. And through Tom Hanks’ remarkable performance as the eponymous protagonist, we experience the constant rush of emotions the by-the-book captain felt, from dread to fear, desperation to panic, despair to hopelessness.

Hanks has entered a stage in his career where we take him for granted. He’s a reliably warm and funny presence ( Larry Crowne, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) who occasionally takes show-off, look-at-me! chances ( Cloud Atlas) that don’t amount to much. But in Captain Phillips, Hanks delivers his subtlest, most internalized performance to date. Phillips is an experienced sailor, a pragmatic man who believes in procedure and routine. When he’s thrust into a situation where the normal rules no longer apply, he has to relearn everything he knows and try to deal with captors who have impossible expectations and place a much lesser value on human life than he does. Hanks allows you to watch this man react to extreme circumstances and respond the best he can. A big part of the film’s considerable suspense comes in seeing what Phillips will try next, even after he’s been trapped into the tightest corner imaginable.

Greengrass tones down his trademark shaky-cam style just enough that you can always follow the action, although the handheld camerawork still makes you feel like you’re living the movie along with its characters. The movie’s first scene is so clunky — Phillips’ ride to the airport with his wife (Catherine Keener, sporting a horrible frizzy-hair wig), during which they talk about how much the world has changed and how much better things used to be — that you brace yourself for a disaster. But by the time Captain Phillips reaches its stunning final scene, which manages to be happy and emotionally devastating at the same time, even that horrible opening makes sense. I’ve purposely avoiding recounting what happens in Captain Phillips, because even though the story is well-known, the movie plays even better if you’re not familiar with the facts. But Greengrass’ treatment of this material — and Hanks’ extraordinary performance — makes the movie required viewing for the informed and uninformed alike.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">“Life After Death”:</span> Zach (Dane DeHaan) finds his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is behaving strangely after somehow coming back from the dead.

    Life After Beth (R)

    Life After Beth starts out as a cracked, comical take on Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Zach (Dane DeHaan) is a young man mourning the death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza). At home, his parents patronize him and his older brother (a funny Matthew Gray Gubler) bullies him, so he starts spending time with the late girl’s family (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon). Being with them make him feel closer to Beth, even though they seem to be acting fairly calmly in light of such a calamity.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Magic in the Moonlight’:</span> Colin Firth is a stage magician trying to disprove the abilities of an acclaimed psychic (Emma Stone).

    Magic in the Moonlight (PG-13)

    The inherent problem in cranking out a movie (sometimes two!) every year, as Woody Allen has been doing for the last 34 years, is that some of them are inevitably going to be dogs. Does someone have a gun to the filmmaker’s head that forces him to proceed with half-baked, joyless comedies such as Magic in the Moonlight instead of tossing bad ideas out and starting fresh? This is, at best, a 20-minute TV episode extended to feature length, and the stretch marks show. Boy, do they show. That’s practically all you can see, really.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Guardians of the Galaxy’:</span> Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Chris Pratt form an unlikely team of space-jockey superheroes.

    Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

    Watching the zippy, ebullient Guardians of the Galaxy, you wonder “Why can’t all comic-book movies be this much fun?”

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category