Captain Phillips

Some thoughts on an Oscar contender

Nov. 3, 2013
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It’s easy to forget that the guy under the graying beard in Captain Phillips is Tom Hanks. Drained of his everyman smirk, that ironic shrug suggesting that he’s having a good time being a Hollywood star, Hanks disappears entirely into his role as real-life skipper Richard Phillips. It may be the best performance of his career.

Before flying to Oman to take command of the ill-fated freighter Maersk Alabama, Phillips has a conversation with his wife on the way to the airport. He’s concerned with their children’s grades, their future in a world spinning erratically from rapid change. The film cuts to a squalid village in Somalia where the local warlord pushes and cajoles the villagers into setting forth on their rickety boats for another pirate raid. There is a parallel, but which director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray wisely chose not to overdo: Phillips and his crew and their pirate counterparts share similar concerns about making a living and getting by in this world. The Somalis, of course, are faced with more serious problems in a nation that collapsed into dust decades ago.

As in his previous, especially the greatest 9/11 movie ever made, United 93, Greengrass’ cameras behave as if they are participants in the action, not merely observers. Running over two hours, Captain Phillips is on the long side, yet never drags. Every minute is gripping.



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