Captain Phillips is Paul Greengrass’s dramatisation of a 2009 piracy incident off the coast of Somalia and as you might expect from the director of two of the Bourne films and the utterly harrowing 9/11 reconstruction United 93 it’s a tense and involving bit of work that earns much of its edge through the care that’s gone into making everything ring as true as possible. Tom Hanks is perfect everyman casting as the level-headed and surprisingly wily captain while the desperate gunmen who attempt to take control of his goods ship are given a background and convincing motivation that’s rare for movie villains. Their leader Muse is keen to give an impression as a reasonable man who’s just conducting a bit of business (at point he refers to the loot he’s after as a tax on Americans for sailing in his country’s waters) even while his more impulsive accomplices have got their guns rammed in the crew-members’ faces.
Truth be told though I did feel a little weary by the end of film despite its obvious intelligence, depth of research and craftsmanship. The first half is just fine, with the scenario economically set up and the peril expertly escalated into a gripping game of cat and mouse in which we get some pleasingly inventive feints on the part of Phillips as he tries to gain the upper hand on the intruders. Eventually however the options close down into a much more claustrophobic milieu and much of the second half comes across as basically just reinforcing the unpleasantness and tension of the situation before the inevitable denouement. The manner of how the situation is going to be resolved is telegraphed pretty clearly a good twenty minutes in advance and most of that time is then filled with various parties shouting and shoving each other about just to keep the ball in the air so to speak. It’s probably a more representative reflection of the time it actually took in real life but it felt very drawn out to me. A shame, as this is generally a cracking action thriller with both heart and brain in the right place.