Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips (12A)

Tom Hanks knows how to pick ‘em. After Apollo 13, which had everyone’s hearts in their mouths even though history relates a happy ending to the story, he presents us with another real-life drama in which the hero lives to tell the tale.

Nevertheless this peerless thriller from Paul Greengrass ratchets up the tension, driving Hanks and four nemeses towards a nail-biting conclusion that is as pulse-poundingly electric as it is cloyingly claustrophobic.

Hanks is the titular seaman, a veteran merchant mariner aboard the bridge of a container ship headed for Kenya. Forewarned of the potential for piracy on the high seas he has his reluctant crew practising security drills.

And not a moment too soon for the radar is suddenly speckled with telltale dots signifying fast-moving skiffs manned by Somali pirates.

Greengrass doesn’t mess about. In his trademark docu-drama style he quickly presents the scenario and places Hanks, as Captain Richard Phillips, at the heart of a rapidly escalating – and deadly – situation.

Thrust into both a battle of wills and a battle of wits with lead pirate Muse (newcomer Barkhad Abdi), Phillips attempts to safeguard his crew, his vessel and himself. He almost succeeds but is forced to submit to being the men’s hostage aboard his own lifeboat.

This, then, is where the film moves into high gear. Swapping the labyrinthine corridors of the boat for a cramped lifeboat Greengrass turns a seagoing adventure into taut stand-off inside a sweatbox.

Where previously Muse and his trigger-happy pals were the ants bringing down an elephant, now they must face the might of the US military in the form of warships and Special Forces.

It presents Hanks (and Abdi as his distrustful opposite number) with magnificent opportunities, which he does not waste to engage in a heightened war of double-think. An emotional finale is both distressing and a powerful reminder of the nature of human resilience.

Star rating: ****

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