Remaining as cautiously optimistic as I’ve ever been, my anticipation for Captain Phillips was about as strong as my general feelings toward similar instances of dramatized exposition, of which translates to “nearly nonexistent.” Preconceptions aside, this adroit retelling of the 2009 hijacking of an American freighter is more than just a pleasant surprise, each act upending the one preceding it with poise and relentless exploitation of its strong suits.
A family-oriented everyman with a handily applicable skill set, Captain Richard Phillips’ (Tom Hanks) latest job pairs him with a modest if very capable crew aboard the Maersk Alabama, all of whom are soon subject to routine pirate-proofing procedures and safety checks as their soon-to-be Somali assailants are also briefly monitored. Early on and throughout, this rife adherence to detail competently plugs any and all holes in the logic of either party, the borderline unbearably intense thrill ride to follow relentlessly capitalizing on a U.S. Navy-executed rescue operation.
As with all biopics, a sense of likability banks solely on the creative powers’ ability to tell a story, and Billy Ray’s script very aptly suits Greengrass’ urgency in conveying the true and very dire nature of the proceedings. Of course, we all know that Richard Phillips lived to tell the tale, however the beauty of Captain Phillips lies ceaselessly within its ability to put us in his shoes as taut unpredictability looms at every possible turn. From an all-deck search for a “missing” crew to one of the better hostage scenarios to ever be recreated on film, Captain Phillips holds its cards close to its chest in the eyes of those not familiar with the source material.
Rarely overwrought despite the ease at which it could’ve edged toward melodrama, Captain Phillips is an enthralling bit of filmmaking through and through. Bolstered additionally by a characteristic turn from Hanks, the film’s sheer ability to engage overrides many a potential shortcoming as these events are tastefully and very capably illustrated. Whether it’s the whole damn package or merely an affecting thrill ride you’re looking for, one thing’s for certain – Captain Phillips is the real deal.