, Port Arthur, Texas

October 11, 2013

“Captain Phillips” sails to the edge in superb thriller

Sean McBride
The Port Arthur News

— I am always amazed when filmmakers turn real-life events into harrowing cinematic thrill rides. I shouldn’t get so wrapped up in these films because I know how the story ends before I ever step into the theater. That’s the theory, but prior knowledge doesn’t seem to matter to truly great filmmakers. They know how put me on the edge of my seat and make me worried about what will happen next, even when I already know what’s coming.

The latest film to do this is “Captain Phillips” from director Paul Greengrass. This is the real life story about the captain of the Maersk Alabama. In 2009, Somali pirates attacked Phillips’ ship and took him as a hostage he was while transporting relief supplies in the seas around Africa. This is the story of how that pirate attack led to a kidnapping which led to a military action by US Special Forces. All the while, Captain Phillips’ life hung in the balance.

I recall thinking during the film that there was no way Phillips could survive this ordeal, even though I knew that the man was speaking to our Chamber of Commerce in just a few days. This movie is so good that I became convinced that the speaker must be an imposter, as the real Captain Phillips must have surely died in the ordeal.

Credit much of this to a couple of superb acting performances. The marquee name is Tom Hanks, who delivers one of the most accomplished performances of his already storied career. His Captain Phillips isn’t just a cardboard stereotype, but rather a flesh and blood man who is both desperate and determined to save his crew from the pirates.

The other acting performance of note comes from newcomer Barkhad Adbi, playing the leader of the pirates. Adbi is a physically slight man, but desperation and determination also play out in his desire to kidnap the crew and collect a quick ransom. These two men are at odds with each other and they spend most of the movie doing a complicated dance as they try to achieve their goals. If nothing else, “Captain Phillips” is a great character study of these two men.

The acting is very good, but it’s director Paul Greengrass who deserves the lion’s share of the credit here. He’s starts the movie off with a bare whiff of character backstory before plunging us head-first into the tense kidnapping drama. He ratchets up the tension as the movie progresses, taking his cameras in even tighter until it feels like everything is about to burst.

If I have a quibble, it’s that your bladder might also burst, as the film runs 2 ¼ hours and is filled with plenty of the nausea-inducing shaky camera moves which have become Greengrass’ cinematic calling card. Those of you with tiny bladders and a tendency for seasickness might want to take precautions, but the rest of the world will simply need to buckle up for a tension-filled high seas drama that will leave you exhausted, but ultimately satisfied by this remarkable film.


Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at