ALTERNATE REALITY, serving Chicago comic fandom since 1978  That's over 40 years of service!                                                                                                    We started at the Comicbook Emporium in February of 1978, Five & Dime Comics from 1983 to 1994 and Alternate Reality ever since, thats over 40 years of serving Chicago South Side Comic Fandom                                                                   SAVINGS! SERVICE! SELECTION! HISTORY! We have it all!


Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Paul Greengrass
Written by:
Screenplay by Billy Ray. Based on the book: "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea" by Richard Phillips & Stephan Talty
Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman
Length:   134 minutes
Released:   101113
PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use
“...this last scene exemplifies the compassion and truthfulness that sets this movie apart from your run-of-the-mill maritime action thriller." 

The defining scene of Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips occurs in the last few minutes, after the cargo-ship captain of the title, played by Tom Hanks, has survived his ordeal of being taken hostage on a lifeboat by four Somali pirates off the coast of Africa. It isn’t spoiling anything to note that the captain makes it off the lifeboat alive—after all, the real-life Richard Phillips went on to write a book about the harrowing 2009 hijacking of his ship, upon which this movie (written by Billy Ray of Shattered Glass and The Hunger Games) is based. But the way Greengrass treats the moment is something I won’t spoil, except to say that this last scene exemplifies the compassion and truthfulness that sets this movie apart from your run-of-the-mill maritime action thriller (and that it very well may be the reason Tom Hanks wins an Oscar).

The 2009 hijacking of a U.S. cargo ship by Somali pirates — and a Hollywood-ready rescue by Navy SEALs — was rare for a modern international crisis, one not being tweeted or YouTube'd from the scene as it happened. That won't happen often from now on. Director Paul Greengrass, who thrives on re-creating such tight-spot tension, turns audiences into after-the-fact eyewitnesses with Captain Phillips, docu-dramatizing the hijacking and four harrowing days that followed. Knowing how the story ends doesn't spoil anything; without social media's immediacy we haven't "seen" the movie before actually seeing it.

The movie plays as verite' as scripted cinema can, with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker) skillfully applying hand-held camera jitter for authenticity's sake. It's a shame of sorts that such a celebrity as Tom Hanks plays the title role, sticking out among mostly unknown faces, reminding us that what often appears real isn't documentary. It would be a bigger shame if we didn't have his performance to admire. Hanks portrays Capt. Richard Phillips, a veteran merchant mariner who's departing to command what seems like just another cargo shipment when the movie begins, this one from Oman to Kenya on the Maersk Alabama. His wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) knows his job's risks, and the rewards their children, home and future depend upon. Phillips' sense of duty and reasons to live are quickly made clear.

The pirates also have their motivations, not all that different from Phillips'. Billy Ray's screenplay briskly illustrates Somalia's poverty among fishermen whose boats are hired by warlords to hijack ships for ransom. Plucked from a daily lineup of desperate applicants is Abduwali Muse, played by Somali emigre Barkhad Abdi, a runty, raw talent literally sweating skeletal menace. Eventually a fascinating antagonism develops between these two captains. Each is essentially operating alone. Most of Phillips' crew is hidden below deck, and Muse's fractious band of pirates could turn any minute. Phillips and Muse needle each other, lie and call bluffs, one being steadily manipulated by the other. Hanks and Abdi are the striking cultural contrast and emoting equals this movie requires at its core.

Like Greengrass' previous true-life thriller United 93, Captain Phillips pays dogged attention to crisis details: evasive tactics delaying the pirates boarding, the big-stick posturing of U.S. military forces, and a final act rivaling the finale of Zero Dark Thirty for sniper-bullet intensity. Henry Jackman's tasteful musical score doesn't announce tension but frequently enhances it, another measure of the movie's effective understatement. Although Captain Phillips expertly establishes the stakes and dangers Phillips faced during his ordeal, the moments seared into my memory occur after the situation is under control. At this point in his celebrated career, there shouldn't be much new that Hanks can show us. But there is, as the actor reaches deep inside to express the relief of dodging death as I've never seen it played before. He's in shock; we're awed. It might make a great nominee clip at next year's Oscars.

Although the pace flags while we’re waiting for the SEALS to arrive, the eventual rescue operation is staged with great skill and tension (and even, rare for Greengrass, the occasional stationary establishing shot). The scenes in which the hijackers meet their various fates—I won’t spoil them if you don’t remember the story, but none are pleasant—have something of the feel of the raid on the Bin Laden compound in Zero Dark Thirty, a taste of bitter, ambivalent victory. And then comes that transcendent last scene, in which the man whose side we’ve barely left during this incredible ordeal is suddenly revealed as the best kind of hero, not super at all but ordinary and vulnerable and human. It’s not the expected tearful reunion between Phillips and his wife; that would be too easy. It’s a unique form of closure, and a suitably powerful end to this potent story.

CAPTAIN  PHILLIPS © 2013 Warner Bros Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2013 Alternate Reality, Inc.



“...this film’s unshakably monolithic power and suspense derives not from the bullets fired but the dominoes felled to arrive at that moment." (JR)

“United 93 picks the scab and brings back the freshness of the wound. But the passage of time allows us to see the events of this film in a larger context." (JR)

“The Hurt Locker” is not only the very best film of 2009, it is one of the very best and most exciting war movies of any kind to come along in a long time."  (JR)