134 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Tom Hanks’ near-uncanny ability to build a compelling Every Man character out of minimal substance is put to good use in “Captain Phillips,” director Paul Greengrass’s tension-charged recreation of a real-life 2009 hijacking of an American freighter in the Indian Ocean.
Capt. Richard Phillips, the main player in the incident and in this film, is a somewhat controversial character. He was hailed as a hero after Navy Seals rescued him from the lifeboat on which he was being held by four Somali pirates.
But since then members of his crew have sued Phillips for what they say was a reckless disregard for their safety by insisting on navigating close to the Somali coast – thus saving time and money – rather than plotting a course further out to sea.
Hanks and Greengrass have it both ways. We see early on that Phillips can be something of a tough captain – not a Queeg-ish martinet, exactly, but forceful enough to irritate some of his crewmen. But he’s also a resourceful fellow looking out for his men in a crisis.
It’s hard to say precisely what sort of a guy he is. “Captain Phillips” lives mostly in the moment, and we don’t learn a whole lot about our protagonist except when he’s under the gun.
Early on we see him driving to the airport with his wife (Catherine Keener, filmed so obliquely she’s hardly recognizable) and we learn that he’s married with a couple of college-age kids. And that’s about it.
Under most circumstances this would result in a movie with a hole where its center should be. But Tom Hanks fills the void with his own star presence. And it pretty much works.