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Captain Phillips

D: Paul Greengrass / 134m

Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Catherine Keener, David Warshofsky, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey

Based on the attempted hijacking of the freighter ship Maersk Alabama in 2009 by Somali pirates, Captain Phillips is a heart-stopping, adrenaline-charged powerhouse of a movie that grabs hold of its audience from the moment two ominous blips are seen on the Alabama’s radar screen, and doesn’t let go until nearly two hours later. The first time the Somalis attack they are unsuccessful, but the ship’s crew know they’ll be back; it’s just a question of how long. When they do, and they manage to board the ship, so begins a game of cat and mouse between the titular Captain Phillips (Hanks) and the Somali leader Muse (Abdi), a game that escalates when Phillips, Muse and Muse’s three compatriots, end up in the Alabama’s lifeboat heading for Somalia. The navy is called in – will they be able to rescue Phillips unscathed, or will the Somalis reach their home shores instead?

Captain Phillips - scene

The answer to both questions is not exactly, and maybe. This is high drama played out at such a pitch that it keeps the audience on the edge of its seat not daring to breathe. Through each twist and turn of the narrative, Greengrass keeps a tight hold on proceedings, ratcheting up the tension until it’s almost unbearable. He’s aided immeasurably by incredible performances by Hanks and Abdi, both equally mesmerising, and both deserving of every accolade they receive. Hanks’ final scene is incredible to watch, a wrenching, pitiless depiction of a man who has gone through so much he’s fighting to remain on top of things and not succeeding; while Abdi convinces as a Somali fisherman who is complex and threatening and naive and proud all at the same time. Of course, all this is down to Billy Ray’s incredible script, by turns thrilling, emotional, nerve-wracking and detailed. The photography by Barry Ackroyd and editing by Christopher Rouse are superb, but this is Greengrass’s towering achievement: his best film yet and easily the most kinetic, charged movie of 2013 – never has the word “execute” been the trigger for an audience to be able to release so much pent-up emotion.

Rating: 9/10 – my movie of the year for 2013 and easily the most exciting thriller of recent years; a powerful experience that lingers long in the memory.