When he first boards his new ship, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) inspects every nook and cranny, showing up every fault that there is to be found, and comes across as overtly anal and paranoid. However, during a routine drill, his paranoia is found to be almost prescient as two boats filled with Somali pirates attempt to board his ship. After a protracted and incredibly taut chase and capture scene, the pirates are aboard, holding the Captain at gun point, and playing cat and mouse with his hiding crew. They want to hold the ship, its contents and its crew for ransom, but due to some deviousness from Phillips, things are not going according to plan.
Telling the true story of the first American cargo vessel to have been hijacked in over 200 years, director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) brings an economic but necessary attention to detail that manages to keep the audience both fully informed and proceedings ticking along at a rapid pace. Nails will be well and truly chewed for that opening hour, but once the hijackers have taken Phillips and escaped on tiny lifeboat, what should have been claustrophobia inducing instead shifts into a mild inertia. Thankfully this doesn't last too long, as the final third gets the tension ramped way back up again.
The script gives the smallest amount of back story to the hijackers so as not to make them fully demonized, and as head of the hijackers, Barkhad Abdi presents a great, conflicting mix of desperate and villainous. However, this really is a showcase for Hanks' recently underused abilities, as the film drags out every possible emotion from him, and the final half hour alone showing just why he really is one of the greatest actors working today.
Earlier this year A Hijacking was released, a Danish movie covering pretty much the same story as Captain Phillips, and while it arguably may have been a better movie, Captain Phillips is far more entertaining. Aside from some choppy issues, this is a fantastically made, incredibly tense, brilliantly acted thriller.