I've never really had much time for Tom Hanks as an actor. I don't dislike him, but he's never exactly got my pulse racing in any of his parts (even the big award-winners, like Philadelphia or Forrest Gump). It's not the most flattering description, but the word that always comes to my mind for Tom Hanks is dependable. He's a safe pair of hands, a reliable actor always giving solid, decent performances. And that's what you get here: a solid, decent performance. Hanks' Phillips is a cautious, principled man, prepared to put himself in the line of fire to save his crew.
The other standout performance is by Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the captain of the Somali pirates. The script does not simply portray the pirates as pantomime, one-dimensional villains to be smote by the forces of good. There is a judicious use of backstory- as is traditional, there's always someone higher up the chain- and there is a real tension between Muse and the other members of the crew which threatens to spill out at any moment. The scenes in the lifeboat are at times unbearably tense as the pirates argue and bicker.
Paul Greengrass brings the same taut, claustrophobic and tense style to Captain Phillips than he showed in the brilliant but harrowing United 93 (2006). The scenes as the pirates search the Maersk Alabama, whilst the crew wait in darkness, is a real nerve-shredder. There are moments of violence but few and far between and not incredibly graphic.
It's shot well and the performances are exceptionally good throughout. It's not exactly a feelgood movie but it is a gripping take on a truly remarkable story.
Rating: 4 out of 5