Captain Phillips delivers action with emotion

Rating: PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use.

Runtime: 134 minutes.

Grade: A+

The competition for would-be Oscar nominees has begun, and with Captain Phillips on the roster, things just got a lot more interesting.

By taking the accounts of merchant marine Captain Richard Phillips and his crew’s hijacking by Somali Pirates in April of 2009, and sprinkling in some grade A Hollywood magic, director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne series) has managed to put together a compelling, tightly-paced drama.

What begins as another day on cargo ship Maersk Alabama and its captain (Tom Hanks) becomes suddenly dangerous when the route takes them into the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia. When the ship and crew are hijacked by a small, desperate group of heavily armed, gang-pressed young men lead by the charismatic Muse (Somali actor Barkhad Abdi), a tense days-long stand-off slowly unfolds, with both captains forced to match their wits and will against one another.

A fear I had coming into this film was that it would be an inaccurate fluff piece made to prop up the U.S. Navy by cleaning up some of the messier details of the day (like glossing over the fact that the murderous pirates in question were essentially teenagers, used for the most part by warlords, and trapped in a hopeless no-win situation of either poverty or crime).

As it turns out, the portrayal of the Somalian Pirates and their situation is portrayed with brutal honesty, neither victimizing them nor painting them as broad movie villains, but as desperate individuals who are in way over their heads.

The Richard Phillips side of the equation turns out to be the one riff with the inaccuracies. Tom Hanks’s portrayal of Captain Phillips is one of quiet reserve and a desire to keep his crew safe. The actual Captain Phillips was much less fondly remembered by his crew; many accounts labeled him as a thrill-seeker and a glory hound who purposely put his crew in harm’s way to save a few bucks.

But inaccurate portrayals aside, Paul Greengrass brings those sharp editing skills and sense for pacing from his Bourne series to Captain Phillips. Helped by a strong script and dynamic performances, the film never drags.

But the real heavy lifting of the film is done by the captivating double act of Hanks and Abdi. With a cast that doesn’t have too many standouts besides Hanks, Abid more than holds his own with the Oscar-winner and delivers the film’s finest moments These are made more amazing when he switches from his native language of Somali (with subtitles) to English effortlessly with his acting never taking a noticeable dent.

Not to be outdone,Tom Hanks is sensational as always, turning out a dynamite performance of his own. Never does his portrayal of Captain Phillips eclipse unbelievable-action-hero-territory, but rather stays grounded and believable. Ironically enough, Tom hanks plays a better Captain Phillips then then the actual Captain Phillips. Look for either of these men to get Oscar nods in the coming months.

Captain Phillips is is an action-packed film that delivers its brand of action without gaudy spectacle and empty gestures, but with powerful emotion and captivating performances. And if it accomplishes the task making more people about the tragic situation in Somalia, then all the better.