“Captain Phillips” is the ultimate true tragedy-to-film adaptation. Rather than ride the “wow, this really happened” wave to an explosive finish, Paul Greengrass’ representation is so absorbing in and of itself, you won’t have an ounce of energy left for that until well after.
Tom Hanks is Richard Phillips, a cargo ship captain reporting to work for a new assignment, transporting a stock of relief supplies for Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya. While en route to Mombasa, the Maersk Alabama is boarded by four armed pirates determined to return home to Somalia with a sizable haul. With no cars or jewels, and little cash to give, it’s up to Phillips to keep the invaders from lashing out and harming his crew until, ultimately, he’s taken hostage himself.
When you’ve got a film that chronicles such a remarkable true story, it automatically gets a leg up. The material is intrinsically more profound because you know it’s the real deal. However, what makes “Captain Phillips” a standout in that sense is that the truth only comes into play before the film begins and after the credits roll because it functions as an all-consuming standalone piece. Then, once the material has sunk in, reconnecting with the idea that this series of events actually happened makes the whole experience all the more powerful.
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