Updated: Sunday, 12th July 2020 @ 9:02am

Cinema review: Captain Phillips

Cinema review: Captain Phillips

By David Aspinall, watching at Manchester's Cornerhouse

Suspenseful and gripping, Paul Greengrass’ new action thriller ‘Captain Phillips’ is a rollercoaster ride that uses contrasts and comparisons to build drama until its hectic conclusion.

Tom Hanks stars in the true story which shows the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship in 2009 – two hundred years after the last hijacking of an American vessel.

The balanced approach the takes film creates empathy with the audience for the captors where otherwise there should be none.

The film starts by giving us a brief insight into family life for both protagonists; Captain Rich Phillips, played by Hanks, and Muse (Barkhad Abdi).

We start in Captain Phillips’ Vermont home and follow his SUV as he drives to the airport to catch his flight to meet his cargo ship and eavesdrop on his conversation between him and his wife discussing their children’s school grades.

As he says goodbye, we are instantly taken to Muse’s village in Somalia where he is woken up by the sound of machine gun fire, as his pirate boss demands his crew go out and hijack another ship to make more money.

The next comparison you are forced to make is between the gargantuan cargo ship under Captain Phillips control, decked out with the most modern equipment and a sizeable, veteran crew.

This is matched with the Somali pirate’s tiny boat fitted with a dodgy outboard motor and four-man crew, including a 16-year-old on his first pirate trip, picked right before they set sail.

All of this creates a David v Goliath feeling that makes you forget you shouldn’t really be rooting for the pirates.

To magnify the haves and have-nots you just have to look at the experience of the actors which make up both crews.

On one side there is the two-time Oscar winning Hanks – who according to IMDB has had 72 acting roles – who, with his usual ease, portrays the intense Maersk-ship operator.

In contrast to the veteran Hanks, between the four-man Somali-pirate crew there is a grand total of zero previous acting roles - in fact Abdi was a chauffeur before being hired for the role of Muse.

This great chasm in acting experience helps to create the panicked situations between Captain Phillips and the Somali pirates, both on board the cargo ship and inside the lifeboat.

Furthermore this chaos is heightened by the fact, according to an interview with Hanks, neither crews met face to face until the Somali pirates, at the second time of asking, hijack the cargo-ship.

The size of the locations used also accentuates the tension built throughout the film.

The vastness of what is supposed to be the Indian Ocean, balances against the claustrophobic size of the three main locations for the hostages; the bridge and engine room of the cargo ship and subsequently the ship’s lifeboat, where the film comes to a hectic conclusion.

You can buy tickets to watch Captain Phillips at Cornerhouse here.

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures via YouTube, with thanks

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