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Aye, aye, Captan!: Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips doesn’t need cinematic effects for its suspenseful thrills

“They’re not here to fish.”

All is quiet in Vermont days before Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is sent out on a mission to board a cargo ship to the Somalian shores where piracy threats traffic in all directions. But work is work, and the Captain is Captain—another trek across international waters on the good ol’ US Maersk Alabama.

But this time was different. “This keeps getting harder,” says his wife (Catherine Keener) right before Phillips is dropped off at the airport. It’s almost as if Phillips knew, too, seconds before he got on that plane, that it was only a matter of time before a group of pirates would have their way with the Maersk.

And these guys don’t play games. At first you think Phillips and his crew have a chance with the advantage of their ship size, but after just one failed attempt of hopping aboard, these pirates will not go quietly and are suddenly latching on to the side of the ship with some intense firearms.

“I’m the Captain now,” says the pirates’ driven and surprisingly sympathetic leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who gives Phillips the nickname “Irish”. Though Muse is always somewhat siding with Phillips throughout (they are both captains, after all), causing some hostility among his mates Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman), Najee (Faysal Ahmed), and young Elmi (Mahat M. Ali), who all could care less if there was a bullet through his skull (a miracle to say the least)—which makes Captain Phillips story innately suspenseful without having to rely on cinematic effects as much as Greengrass’ directorial brilliancy.


We get a brief glimpse of Somalian conditions before the hijackers journey off in search of their next victim (which could have been a little more bolded; we barely dive into the regional conflict), giving the audience some reason to understand their underlying motives, but nevertheless, Greengrass never fails to capture the pirates’ intense emotions portrayed by native Somalian actors to the point where you’d think this were a documentary.

The thing that got me most about this entirely true story (though some are arguing that Phillips did in fact exaggerate and didn’t take the exact measures portrayed in the movie) was the seemingly lag response from the US Navy. Shouldn’t they have more protection out on the coast if say, mere days ago there was a similar attack? And why wasn’t the Maersk armed in a high risk danger zone? A lot of this protocol puzzled me a bit, but does make for an epic and intense (and maybe a little too drawn out) ending of Phillips on the brink of death in a tiny lifeboat the pirates kept him hostage in.

Hanks’ performance is incredibly noteworthy and is probably his best in years (so yes, in case you were in any doubt, he’s still got it). But the real genius is the man behind the camera: Paul Greengrass. Everything about the timing of each shot to the way to the hijackers’ boat ride darting towards Phillips’ ship all the way to the bloody ending of each one’s inevitable fate made Captain Phillips such an exciting thriller.

Worth ten bucks (or twelve, whatever)!

(photo via IGN)

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Kaitlin Duffy is a writer from Cleveland. When she's not blogging or pondering the great complexities of the world and outer space, she is finding rare vinyl steals, visiting new places, laughing often, Instagramming everything in sight, watching movies, or working on her first feature Port de Cleve.