Captain Phillips Review: Tense, Well Told, Yet Slightly Detached

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For the most part, Captain Phillips is a strong, tense thriller that succeeds in leaving you breathless on more than one instance. Too bad it also gets caught in the same net as many other “based on true events” films that detach themselves from the viewer.

Captain Phillips is the story of Somalian pirates hijacking a cargo ship and holding it’s captain (Tom Hanks) hostage. The story itself is a fantastic one. You may remember reading about it back in 2009. Now comes the inevitable film adaptation. But at least Paul Greengrass knows how to craft tense scenes better than most directors.

Yet still, the script doesn’t have the power to keep you engaged or even rooting for any particular set of characters. Of course we generally want Phillips to survive, but it doesn’t feel any different from when we read the news articles about it a few years ago.

Greengrass almost slipped into similar territory when he made United 93 back in 2006. But that film managed to pull together the realism of the situation, making sure we felt like we were on the plane. There are moments in Captain Phillips where I felt as if I was in the whole mess of things, but perhaps the bloated runtime took away from that. This film is almost half an hour longer than United 93 and it really feels like it. 

Greengrass’ more popcorn-y Bourne sequels also move a lot quicker than this film.

Yet still, the tense moments really do land and Tom Hanks does an admirable job. I just wish the script had given the captain a little more to relate to. As with United 93, the antagonists get most of the depth, a fact I am more than fine with.

But Captain Phillips is missing the various moving parts that made the chaos in United 93 so fascinating. I compare this film so much to United 93 because it is an exception to the rule that true story movies with underwritten characters can never work. Captain Phillips, sadly, is not. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty


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