Captain Phillips displays heroism at sea, with much suspense

Adam Rokah, Arts and Culture Editor

“I the captain now,” Somali pirate Abduwali Muse tells Captain Richard Phillips while pointing a gun to his head, after he and three fellow pirates have hijacked Phillip’s supplies in search of money.

Director Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips is an action thriller biopic depicting the life of Captain Richard Phillips, whose ship was invaded and who was taken hostage by Somali Pirates in the Indian Ocean. With vivid acting and tight, suspenseful writing, it absorbs the viewer into the film with its exorbitant intensity. Anyone who enjoys watching heroism unfold in someone not accustomed to it will enjoy it – as will anyone who enjoys sitting on the edge of his or her seat for long periods of time.

The film starts by briefly portraying the civilized American background of Captain Phillips, played by Tom Hanks, just before he leaves on his excursion to deliver goods around the world, and the violent, hectic background of the Somali pirates as they plan their next raid.  Abduwali Muse is played by Barkhad Abdi in his debut role.

Despite Captain Phillip’s vigilance and pirate raid drills, Muse and three other armed pirates manage to board the ship. After putting up with the sailors’ resistance, they leave, taking Captain Phillips captive. Phillips and the pirates are now on a small escape boat sailing towards Somalia. The U.S. Navy gets involved, and a contentious and thrilling negotiation follows. It ultimately results in the saving of Captain Phillips, but a more unfortunate fate for the pirates.

The film’s intensity is a result of the plot, remarkable acting, and an unlikely connection between two characters. Because Abdi and the other pirates almost always yell when they communicate and do all they can to come off as truculent, devious, and unethical, viewers can not predict whether one of them will arbitrarily turn to Captain Phillips and kill him.

Captain Phillips is portrayed as morally upright and selfless, and Hanks makes the viewer believe every part of his acting.  “Don’t shoot him — shoot me, I’m the captain, this is between you and me!” he insists, as one pirate holds a gun to his co-worker’s head.

When he is taken captive, Hanks seems to actually fear for his life. And after the three pirates are shot and blood sprays throughout the small escape ship, he seems truly in shock and out of the moment. This voracious acting makes the film very believable.

Surprisingly, Captain Phillips and Abduwali Muse form an underlying connection. After Abduwali tells Captain Phillips that he robbed another ship of six million dollars the previous year, Phillips responds logically with, “then why are you here?” Abduwali answers that he did not get the money, he has a boss. Phillips responds, “We all have bosses.”

These two captains have been unwillingly pushed into their unfortunate situations, and acknowledge this similarity.  Their positive connection interests viewers and draws them into the film. But it’s not the film’s true purpose. Perhaps as reflected in its title, Greengrass has made his ultimate purpose depicting the heroism of Captain Phillips himself, the epitome of ideal behavior in a high-pressure situation.

That almost the entire film takes place at sea does not detract from its excitement. One might expect that with so much time spent in the same location, the film could get redundant. However, the constant tension, cutting to different locations at sea, and action makes location a non-issue.

The emotional and incessantly tense plot, believable acting, and relationship development makes Captain Phillips the dramatic thriller it is. Everyone who is drawn to films which evoke edginess and who would like to witness the illustration of an honorable and dependable hero must see this one.