To say that I’m a fan of the visceral filmmaking aesthetic of director Paul Greengrass would be a massive understatement. I think he’s a genius, and he’s one of my absolute favorite directors. From the stunningly realized recreations of real-world tragedies as depicted in masterpieces like Bloody Sunday and United 93 to his fantastic studio-based work on the Bourne franchise and the supremely underrated Iraq war thriller Green Zone, he employs a certain degree of cinematic verisimilitude that I find thrilling and immediate to experience. 2013’s Captain Phillips found him working with a nearly-career-best Tom Hanks on the true story of a freight ship captain who is taken hostage by Somali pirates on the open seas. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi was terrific as Hanks’s main nemesis, projecting both desperation and anger in an extremely vivid, unpredictable performance.
Billy Ray’s compressed and tight screenplay fed very well into Greengrass’ inherently stripped down storytelling instincts. Ace cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker, United 93) kept the camera swerving and ducking, and in tandem with the staccato editing patterns of Chris Rouse, the film maintained a break-neck momentum for two, extremely tight hours, demonstrating nearly unrelentingly intensity. And then, when those final five minutes arrive, with Hanks pulling out all the stops and shattering the screen in an emotional juggernaut of acting – it’s not only his character’s catharsis but that of the audience, too. One of the best “ripped-from-the-headlines” thrillers of all-time, this is a crisp and clean actioner with important topical overtones, and produced with a phenomenal sense of the here and now.
Review by Nick Clement