The best performance from Tom Hanks in over a decade

Cert 12a | By Ben Butcher
Four Stars

FIRST time collaborators Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass combine to forge a nerve-shredding film that will surely be among the main contenders in awards season.

Captain Phillips is based on the true story of the 2009 hijacking of American freight ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. Once aboard the ill-fated freighter, Phillips (Hanks) establishes a disciplined approach to captaincy, with little time for socializing with staff, and plenty for initiating anti-piracy drills. His worst fears are realized when a boatload of gun-toting pirates – led by Muse (newcomer Barkhad Abdi) – board his ship and take him hostage. The rest of the film concerns the US Navy’s rescue attempts.

Hanks has spent the last decade searching for a role that matches his abilities and he’s certainly found one here. His minimalist performance breathes new life into the familiar trope of the ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances, and ensures the film circumnavigates caricature and sensationalism.

The bankability of Hanks is offset by Greengrass’ decision to use first-time Somali actors for the role of the pirates, a gamble that is rewarded. Abdi has the unenviable task of making his film debut opposite Oscar-form Hanks but more than holds his own. His nuanced performance, ably supported by his fellow countrymen, ensures the pirates transcend mere villainous cliché. His aggressive, brooding character is thrillingly scary.

Greengrass (United 93) is known for his kinetic, docudrama style, and is clearly comfortable with the source material. There is some clunky dialogue, where the characters are reduced to vessels for geopolitical arguments, but otherwise Greengrass handles the wider issues well. His insistence on grounding the film in authentic detail allows the political issues to speak for themselves.

In the end though, it’s all about Hanks. The final scene showcases some of the best acting of his career, and if this is his return to former glories, then long may it continue.