Tom Hanks is the kind of actor who can spend most of a movie’s run delivering monologues to a volleyball on a deserted island and still get nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor.

So the Oscar buzz for the 2-time Oscar winner in a role based on a true and exhilarating story of a ship hijacking and kidnapping by pirates that hogged headlines in 2009 is nothing surprising.

But compared to his last movie, Cloud Atlas where he had to play 6 roles, including Dermot Hoggins, a rowdy mafia-looking book author, and Zachry, a Valleymen tribe member who fought for his survival. Hanks’ outing as the titular character in Captain Phillips is a walk in the park.

Or a walk down the deck, rather. Why?

1. There are no long hours spent in makeup. This ship captain doesn’t wear a peacoat, a uniform, or even a cap. Instead, because he commands a container ship and his men are unarmed, he strides around comfortably in short-sleeve shirt and chinos.

2. He doesn’t need to run from the French police and as he did in The Da Vinci Codebased on the bestseller of the same name.

While the action may largely be confined on board the MV Maersk Alabama, a merchant ship that Hanks commandeers as Captain Richard Phillips from the port of Oman to Mombasa, it’s no less a shot of adrenaline.

As the cargo of oil, food and clean water passes the pirate-infested waters of the Horn of Africa, it and its crew becomes the target of 4 Somali pirates who board the merchant vessel despite the Captain’s best efforts to tighten security.

Since Phillips orders his crew to hide in the engine room, when the pirates arrive at the bridge, their leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi in his debut role)  demands to know where the ship’s crew members are.

After a series of heart-gripping close shaves with the pirates, the crew managed to capture Muse and offers to exchange him for their captain. To no one’s surprise, the pirates go back on their word and hold Phillips hostage in the lifeboat, which they launch into the sea.

The U.S. Navy and SEAL team finally arrive, after the ship sent out a distress call prior to the pirates’ boarding, to negotiate the hostage situation. Eventually, more shots are fired instead and more action unfolds.

With his signature use of hand-held cameras, director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) creates an almost documentary-like vibe, bringing the audience into this suspenseful film’s centre of action. The portrayal of the Somalis in their homeland felt honest, and wins them some sympathy when you see how they desperately volunteered themselves to be part of the 2 teams of skiffs that headed out to the choppy waters to intercept the ship.

Naturally, Hanks nailed his character and delivered a brilliant performance as Captain Phillips. Through the looks in his eyes and little actions, Hanks managed to display fear that’s hidden beneath the calm personality of the captain while he was under the threat of the pirates. Hanks’ ability to exhibit charm as an ordinary man placed in extraordinary situations has always been impressive, as it was with his portrayal of Viktor Navorski in The Terminal.

Special mention must be made to Abdi, who impressed critics with his screen debut and won praises for his nuanced depiction of the ruthless pirate. Not only did Abdi exhibit the outlaw’s desperation superbly, but also his strong-willed determination – because they had nothing to lose.

The remarkable film will keep the audience at the edge of their seats throughout the bumpy 134 minutes, with its intense suspense and well-executed drama. Though long, it allows the characters to develop at a comfortable pace. The crew’s panic can be felt genuinely, giving the audience little room to breathe.

One other thing the film may be remembered for in years to come is the controversy that surrounds it. According to the New York Post, crew members of the Maersk Alabama said that Captain Phillips wasn’t as heroic as he’s depicted in the film.

In fact, he was an arrogant man and disregarded piracy warnings. According to one of the crew members that worked closely with him, the crew had “begged captain Phillips not to go so close to the Somali coast” but he wouldn’t listen. Another crew member said the captain’s plan was to surrender to the pirates while the chief engineer was the one who led the rest to lock themselves in the engine room.

Then again, since the action thriller is based on the book: A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea that was written by Philips himself, it’s debatable whether he took the opportunity to lionize himself.

He certainly wouldn’t be either the first or last person to overrate himself.

Good thing is you can’t say that of the leads in this movie.

Rating: 4.5/5
Release date: Nov 14
Runtime: 134 minutes
Language: English
Censorship rating: PG
Genre: Action/Drama/Thriller
Director: Paul Greengrass
Main actors: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures