Running Time:  134 mins.                      Rating: 4 Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Paul Greengrass

Genre: Biography/Crime/Drama

Country: USA

Language: English and Somali w/English subtitles

Distributor: Columbia

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahaman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Catherine Keener, David Warshofsky, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, Max Martini, Omar Berdouni, Mohamed Ali, Issak Farah Samatar


In a world where terrorists attack the innocent in the name of either religion or a political cause, there is something perversely refreshing about the Somali pirates who have become infamous for taking over ships and kidnapping crewmembers. It is just business to them, and a profitable one at that, according to the new film CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.  While they may not having anything personally against their victims they can be as bloodthirsty as the most hateful member of Al Qaeda if they don’t get the ransom that they are demanding.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a dramatization of the real-life 2009 hijacking of an American merchant ship, the Maersk Alabama, by resourceful Somali thugs. Navy SEALS were called into restore order five days after the pirates boarded the ship and wound up taking Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) hostage on one of the Alabama’s tiny motorized lifeboats.

Knowing how the story is going to end does not diminish one iota the tension that builds for nearly the entire 2 hours and 10 minutes of this film. When the Maersk Alabama sets out from Oman to its intended destination, Nairobi, Kenya, Phillips and his crew are well aware of the dangers of sailing by Somalia albeit in international waters. He repeatedly issues anti-hijacking practice drills with his guys and gives explicit instructions to make sure that everything is locked at all times. Despite his precautions, Captain Phillips has no idea about the hell he will soon face.

Director Paul Greengrass gives us a look into the clandestine world of Somali gangsters. We see impoverished and desperate men dreaming of making a big score by taking out a couple of powerboats and some smalltime artillery that wouldn’t catch anyone’s eye at an NRA gun show with the hopes of robbing some valuable cargo and taking prisoners. As with any crime organization there are a few Mr. Big types who are known as the tribal elders.

The Somali leader who is in charge of the Maersk Alabama takeover is Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who reminds me of Fast Black, the dangerous pimp that Morgan Freeman played in the 1987 Christopher Reeve film, STREET SMART.  Like Fast Black, Muse can be funny, charming, and reassuring one minute and then turn into an out of control maniac who can kill anyone who crosses him in the most minute ways the next.

Tom Hanks is superb as expected in the roll of the stoic and heroic Richard Phillips, a veteran ship captain who hails from Vermont. Hanks get to trot out the same no-nonsense New England accent that he did when he played FBI agent Carl Hanratty in the 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio film, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

Like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, this is a cat-and-mouse film that will leave you on the edge of your seat because of the interplay between Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, a newcomer who more than holds his own with the multiple-time Academy Award winner. Abdi makes sure that Muse is not just a standard issue foreign film villain. Muse talks about how he dreams of coming to America (in real life Abdi immigrated to the US from Somalia in 1989) and claims that if foreigners did not destroy his homeland’s fishing industry all of this unpleasantness would be unnecessary.

You may want to take a Dramamine before seeing this film because you will feel as if you are bobbing up and down in the sea as if you were on that tiny lifeboat being helmed by Muse. When the Navy starts closing in it is easy to think that they are coming to your rescue.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a gripping film that will do a better job of making you bite your knuckles than 99% of the horror films that come out this time of year.


If you like this recommendations: Escape From Alcatraz, Catch Me If You Can, Street Smart