The new "based on a true story" thriller from director Paul Greengrass stars Tom Hanks as the real life Captain Phillips. By now most of the world has repeated seen the trailer for the film and know that in 2009, his freighter was boarded by Somali pirates. What you don't see from the trailer is any hint of the second half of the film when it turns from a very good film to a great film.
Mr. Hanks is terrific as the stoic Phillips who is wary of a pirate threat from the minute he boards the ship. The true mark of a great actor is when they disappear so deeply into a role that you forget you are watching the actor. That's what happens during the course of this film.
Without revealing too much, know that Mr. Hanks is simply remarkable in the later half of the film. His vulnerability, humanity and fear are simultaneously etched on his face as he finds himself in claustrophobic close quarters with his panicked captors. Even as his situation grows more desperate, the camera catches him calculating a plan, fearing for his life, and trying to negotiate a peaceful end all with minimal dialog. Mr. Hanks continues to show us his best work with every role. If you have any doubt this is a masterful performance, watch the infirmary scene closely.
Matching him in intensity is the Somali pirate leader, Muse, played by first time actor, Barkhad Abdi. Even if you have seen the trailer many times, it's still a chilling moment when he confronts Phillips and says "I'm the Captain now".
Mr. Greengrass is a master of close up camera direction and always puts his audience in the center of the action, moving things along at a brisk pace. He never wastes a shot although the opening establishing scenes are a bit contrived. His camerawork combined with a great score keep you on the edge as the story plays out between the pirates, the Captain, and the U.S. Navy.
This fall, Hollywood seems obsessed with protagonists in survival mode and "Captain Phillips" may lead the pack only because this one really happened.