With nail-biting, pulse-pounding intensity, "Captain Phillips" chronicles the real-life ordeal of an American cargo ship's hijacking by Somali pirates in 2009.
It's the first time that happened in 200 years, and it took a Navy Seals operation to rescue the American mariner, who becomes a hostage in a lifeboat. Knowing the outcome doesn't reduce the tension spread out over four harrowing days. The Maersk Alabama was going from Kenya to Oman when a rag-tag group of pirates -- mostly desperate fisherman needing money hired by bigger guns to bring back large ransoms.
Trying on a Vermont accent, Tom Hanks matter-of-factly plays no-nonsense Rich Phillips whose strong sense of duty would keep his staff mostly protected. What Hanks is able to do with this role is astonishing -- especially the final moments, where pure, raw emotion takes over. It's the kind of bravura work that wins actors awards.
Because they are not well-known, the gentlemen playing the Somali pirates are all the more menacing.
Riveting work by director Paul Greengrass ("United 93"), who can turn a claustrophobic atmosphere where tensions are high into a thriller.
What Doesn't Work
The hand-held jittery camera still takes some getting used to -- and probably makes the situation even queasier. But overall, the production's editing and cinematography are first-rate. The music enhances the suspense as well.
3 1/2 stars out of 4
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Catherine Keener
Director: Paul Greengrass
Rated: PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use