Susan Granger’s review of “Captain Phillips” (Sony/Columbia Pictures)
In April, 2009, four impoverished Somali fishermen hijacked the Danish container ship Maersk Alabama, loaded with 2400 tons of commercial cargo and 200 tons of food aid, in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa. Its 53 year-old American Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) was taken hostage by the ransom-demanding pirate leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), igniting a dramatic five-day siege involving a U.S. destroyer, Navy SEAL snipers and F.B.I. negotiators.
Phillips’ wife prescient wife (Catherine Keener) was concerned about his safety as he left their Vermont home for Salahah, Oman, to take command of the enormous vessel bound for Mombasa, Kenya. Worried about a possible attack, Phillips held a security drill as they approached the Somali basin, so that when raiders first approached in small wooden skiffs, they were able to use evasive maneuvers. But the next day, when the unarmed transport was boarded, Phillips ordered his well-trained crew to hide in the engine room. “Relax,” says machine-gun toting Muse, upon reaching the bridge. “No Al Qaeda here. Just business.”
Despite being abducted, bound and trapped in a metal lifeboat, resourceful, resilient Phillips, a veteran merchant mariner, is stealthily determined to out-maneuver Muse and his squabbling, bedraggled cohorts, feigning mechanical failure and offering cash from an onboard safe.
Inspired by Phillips’ own memoir and tautly adapted by Billy Ray (“Breach,” “Shattered Glass”), it’s directed by Paul Greengrass, who dealt with critical urgency before in “United 93” about the 9/11 hijacking, “Bloody Sunday” about a British massacre in Northern Ireland, and ”Green Zone” about the Iraq War, with Barry Ackroyd’s hand-held cinematography adding claustrophobic veracity. Above all, the suspense is anchored by Tom Hanks’ authentic, subtly nuanced Everyman performance, one that should earn the two-time Oscar winner another nomination.
FYI: according to a 2012 Oceans Beyond Piracy report, over the past 20 years, there have been nearly 100 similar hijackings, resulting in a loss of $18 billion annually from the global economy.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Captain Phillips” is a tense 10, a relentless, edge-of-your-seat action thriller.