Thirteen years after playing in the surf with Wilson the volleyball, Tom Hanks returns to the water in Captain Phillips, an involving adaptation of Richard Phillips' fact-based book A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea.
Despite its real-life hook, director Paul Greengrass doesn't employ the faux-documentary format he used for United 93 (or even Bloody Sunday); instead, this adheres closer to the slick style of the two Bourne films he helmed (Supremacy and Ultimatum).This concession toward Hollywood is OK, though, since it allows Phillips to be played by an A-list actor whose strength is that he generally keeps his head down and his eyes forward when tackling a dramatic role.
Hanks has played ordinary guys forced to be heroes in past pictures (Saving Private Ryan, for one), but here his age and demeanor provide him with a gruffness we haven't quite seen from him before -- addressing his men aboard the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, Phillips demonstrates that while his bark is worse than his bite, he has plenty of both.
Once the vessel is hijacked by Somali pirates looking for a big payload, Phillips does everything he can to keep his crew safe, but what's unexpected is the way he reacts differently to each of the invaders. Most prominent is his relationship with the head pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a wiry man who's usually smart enough to know when Phillips is misleading him -- and definitely smart enough to repeatedly identify himself and his men as "not Al-Qaeda."
It's a pleasure watching the two actors go head-to-head, with Abdi's intensity playing off Hanks' anxiety. But mostly, it's just a pleasure to see Hanks stay away from the bathetic likes of Larry Crowne and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and ply his trade on something worthwhile.