Director: Paul Greengrass.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus.
WHEN we think of piracy these days, we think of either Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow or people stealing music via the internet.
We tend to forget about the machine gun-toting modern kind that tends to take place in the Indian Ocean around Somalia.
It's this kind of piracy that dominates Captain Phillips, a dramatic retelling of the 2009 hijacking of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama off the coast of Africa.
Hanks plays the titular Richard Phillips, who is helming the Alabama on a routine voyage from Oman to Kenya when it is boarded by four Somalian youths.
After things don't go to plan for the pirates, Phillips is taken hostage, creating a strange stand-off between the might of the US navy and the four Somalians.
The film is an edge-of-your-seat cat-and-mouse game for much of its running time. Greengrass' direction and the script based on Phillips' own memoir bring an authenticity to proceedings that is impressive and interesting.
There is a thrill and a palpable sense of danger as the crew of the Alabama wage a defensive war - despite being unarmed - against these four desperate assailants. But as the battleground shifts from the open seas to the cargo ship and then to a confined lifeboat, the film struggles to maintain that level of intensity and tends to drag a bit in its latter third.
Predominantly, Captain Phillips works and makes the most of its lulls to explore who the pirates are. While some don't progress far beyond caricatures - the young scared one, the angry one - at least they are not just faceless villains, and part of the story is told from their perspective.
Hanks is the focus though, and aside from a short cameo by Catherine Keener at the beginning, he is the only big name star. His role is not far removed from his Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 and Chuck Noland in Cast Away - two other characters he's played who were placed in extraordinary survival situations that required grace under pressure and do-anything desperation.
It's a type of role he does admirably, and he is very good again here - it's a performance that grows with the intensity of the film and helps keep things grounded.
He is more than matched by Abdi, whose performance as lead pirate Muse is exhilarating. Hanks might be in nearly every scene, but Muse is the real shining light here. It's a firecracker of a performance that helps keep the film on a knifepoint.
That balancing act of tension is almost impossible to sustain and you can feel your attention being sapped as proceedings drag on. A touch too-long at two hours, Captain Phillips resorts to an over-the-top score by Henry Jackman (Wreck-It Ralph, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) to keep the drama ramped up. The situation becomes draining, and then ludicrous when three battleships and a team of navy seals are squaring off against four young Somalians and the OTT score doesn't help in that situation.
The film is fascinating and largely entertaining but it feels too long as it battles to maintain its intensity.
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