“Captain” brings real-life to the screen

PHOTO COURTESY OF SLATE.COM Left: Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips. Right: A photo of the real Captain Phillips.

As one of my fellow theater-goers said best, “It’s not exactly the feel-good movie of the year.”

No, director Paul Greengrass’ new film, “Captain Phillips,” is anything but warm and fuzzy. This based-on-a-true-story tale of the Maersk Alabama and its hijacking by Somali pirates is full to bursting with violence, blood and heart-pounding intensity.

Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips, a by-the-book sea captain hired to take the United States vessel Maersk Alabama along the Horn of Africa. When the ship is hijacked by pirates, Phillips and his crew fight back against the attackers and their frustratingly clever leader, Muse (played by Barkhad Abdi). The film’s main plot begins when, in desperation, Muse and his pirates take Phillips hostage aboard a lifeboat and sail for Somalia.

Greengrass’ film is shot in a fascinatingly realistic style. From the sweat-stains on Phillips’ chest to the glass lodged in a pirate’s foot to the cramped insides of the ship, it seems decisions for this movie weren’t made based on what would look best but instead on what is closest to reality. It would be hard to believe the incredible story of Phillip’s capture if the movie were exaggerated in its filming. The decision to maintain reality in props and set lent a certain ethos to the movie’s true-story base.

Hanks’ performance, sometimes cool-under-fire and sometimes terrified and shocked, is nothing short of brilliant. Much in line with Greengrass’ “real-life” filmmaking style, Hanks’ acting of Phillips is understated; it’s real. Phillips isn’t a war hero or a pirate fighter, he is an ordinary guy shoved into a nightmare situation. Hanks captures this and brings a real person to the camera.

I was thrilled at this movie’s portrayal of the Somali pirates. It would have been easy for Billy Ray (screenwriter) to build antagonists who were simply cut-throat bad guys out to murder and pillage. Instead, Ray’s pirates were, based on fact, fisherman out of work because of overfishing, desperate for a way to survive. Muse’s mantra, “everything gon’ be OK,” lends itself to the audience’s understanding that Muse isn’t interested in hurting anyone. Abdi’s stellar performance as Muse was a key factor in this, as well. Viewers can feel his desperation; he doesn’t want to be in this situation any more than Phillips does.

This honest movie is destined to become the main source for the public’s understanding of the 2009 hijacking. Greengrass and his team have done a wonderful job in bringing this real-life tale of heroism and bravery to the screen.