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Captain Phillips – The FreightPros Movie Club

captain phillips movie review
Who doesn’t love Hanks?
It’s about 20 minutes into Captain Phillips, the 2013 Tom Hanks movie, when a suspicious blip appears on the radar of the Maersk Alabama and things start spiraling out of control. Suspense, however, builds from the opening credits and doesn’t let up until the screen goes black. It’s a white-knuckle sort of movie. Captain Phillips tells the true story of Richard Phillips and his ship and crew being taken hostage by Somalian pirates in 2009. It’s directed by Paul Greengrass (he also directed The Bourne Supremecy and The Bourne Ultimatum), who brings a claustrophobic menace to the proceedings using a mix of quick cuts and handheld camera intimacy. As with any biopic there’s going to be questions concerning authenticity, and Phillips is no different, but taken as a fast-paced thriller and exhibition of some great acting by America’s everyman sweetheart, the film hits all the right buttons. The first hour concerns Hanks (sporting a not-great Bostonish accent) as Captain Phillips of the Maersk Alabama, a huge American container ship transporting food aid, water, commercial commodities, and even some oil around the Horn of Africa. There’s the tale-tell signs of a hard-ass captain (he abruptly cuts into some of his workers coffee break pointing at his wristwatch; complains about lax security standards; and insists on running eye-rolling safety drills), but all of it comes full-circle when Hanks notices a suspicious blip on his ship’s radar, and from there we’re off and running. As the pirates close in to hijack the behemoth Maersk ship, there are numerous helicopter shots of the open ocean and the sheer immensity of the containers the ship transports. There are a lot of these shots in the first half of the film and it’s clear the filmmakers want to draw your attention to the basic logistics of the shipping industry in some way. As the story unfolds and the backstories of the pirates unveil themselves, the cargo of the ship becomes something to think about. These containers hold items and goods that are shipped in mass volume all over the globe, and though the pirates are not explicitly trying to get at them (they’re more concerned with hostages and ransoms), it’s hard not to think about the moving of global freight/shipping materials and goods, and the breakdown of who gets what and how. Sometimes people take these things for granted, and sometimes people put themselves in real danger to transport them. It’s a small aspect amidst all the action, but it adds to the stakes. Speaking of the pirates, Captain Phillips, perhaps more artfully than anything else, paints an expressive and empathetic picture of its antagonists. The four pirates that eventually take the ship are not heroes by any measure, but the film takes its time explaining some of the madness behind the actions these men are taking. The leader of the pirates, Muse, at one point speaks of his dream of buying a car in America, in New York, and his naivity and blindness to the severity of his situation – to the consequences of his choices – is something close to heartbreaking. Muse, played by first time actor Barkhad Abdi, is incredible. He’s menacing, quiet, and even helpless at times. He is a product of his environment (aren’t we all), and as the movie spirals to it’s conclusion (which feels both inevitable and yet suspenseful), you can’t help but feel for him. The second half of the film becomes even more claustrophobic as Phillips and his captors attempt to escape in a small lifeboat, and as things slowly fall apart, Hanks is unsurprisingly great. He takes his everyman persona and injects it with small flourishes – whether it’s his leadership over his crew and ship, his solemn desolation as things go from bad to worse for his character, and finally, during the film’s climax, a sort of emotional catharsis – that he makes look easy. He makes you believe you’re watching more than Tom Hanks, and that’s not to be overlooked or underestimated. Films on ships or submarines often use their enclosed space to great effect in notching up the excitement and dread of their stories, and Captain Phillips is no different. By the end of the film, you know the movie’s namesake has been put through the emotional ringer, and as the viewer you might feel similar. There’s catharsis in watching great movies, and this movie supplies it in spades. For more on the FreightPros Movie Club, check out our review of Black Dog. CC Image Courtesy Dick Thomas Johnson via Flickr

Logan Theissen

Logan is a Content Marketing Associate at FreightPros in charge of social media and content creation. He has a writing degree from the University of Oklahoma, but lives life on the edge and resides in Longhorn country. He loves Murakami books, Tarantino movies, and Vonnegut books. Lots of books. One day he will own a dog, but first he'll have to get a yard.

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