Captain Phillips

DIRECTED BY: Paul Greengrass
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman
RATING: 3.5 stars

True stories often make the most intriguing films. While there is always some Hollywood spin, knowing that the essence of a story is based on reality can make it all the more emotional to watch. The 2009 news about an American cargo ship being hijacked was well documented at the time and now the film recreates that tale in the capable hands of director Paul Greengrass, who gave us the original Bourne trilogy, screenwriter Billy Ray who has crafted the intense drama well, and of course, Tom Hanks as the protagonist in a powerful performance.

Based on the book written by Captain Richard Phillips called A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea, the film tells the harrowing true story of how Captain Phillips (Hanks) dealt with the hijacking of his US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama – the first American cargo ship to be taken over by pirates in 200 years. The ship is conquered by four Somalians seeking money. But they are left dissatisfied with what they find on the ship, so they kidnap the captain with the aim of taking him back to Somalia.

The film is essentially a giant showdown between the captain and two of the pirates – the smart and tough Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and the hot-headed Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman). Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Aliare are the other two pirates and each one gives an almost authentic performance. As strong as Hanks is in holding the film together, the four villains really make a surprising impact.

The first half of the film felt like Die Hard on a ship, while the second half was more intimate, or rather, claustrophobic in the boat. Greengrass is known for his use of hand-held camera work and it is used to optimal effect in this film and makes the audience feel like they are part of every moment. Interestingly, the film also shies away from being a tacky “America saves the day” story because although the American navy is involved, Greengrass does not make it about them – it is really a human story about the five men in that boat.

The film is a little more than two hours long and in parts it did drag a bit. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating story about survival and a brief insight into the horrors faced by Somalians living in poverty.