This film runs so smoothly it simply glides effortlessly across the screen while maintaining the type of tension that will have you gnawing at your knuckles.
Although the first scene, where Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) prepares to fly out to take command of the Maersk Alabama cargo vessel, is slightly clunky, as soon as the captain steps onto his ship it is full steam ahead.
Things go swimmingly with director Paul Greengrass showing the crew’s daily tasks and routines in great detail, but this is only the calm before the storm that is about to hit. As the Maersk sails down the coast of Somali the captain spots what looks like two souped-up fishing boats tailing them. He is immediately suspicious and suddenly things get very tense indeed. Despite the best efforts of the captain and the crew to elude their pursuers, the ship is boarded by armed Somali pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and so begins a battle of wits and wills between the captain, who just wants to keep his ship and its crew safe, and the pirates who want to get as much ransom money as they possibly can.
At times it seems the pirates have the upper hand but then Phillips appears to have outwitted them. He forces them into one of the Maersk’s lifeboats only to be taken hostage himself and in the cramped, stuffy confines of this chubby little vessel, the tension becomes almost unbearable. Hanks, who gives a pitch perfect performance throughout, is magnificent in these scenes. Up until this point he has been quick-witted, confident, seemingly a man in control. Now he starts to unravel before your eyes, emotions flashing across his face, his body movements becoming nervous and twitchy, his voice stretched tight with stress. You’ll find your own nerves every bit as frayed as his are as Greengrass stretches the tension almost to breaking point.
The film runs for almost two and a quarter hours and although your nerves will be shot to threads by the climax, it is so engrossing it seems to flash by — a good thing as you may forget to breathe throughout. You’ll not see a better structured or played film this year and Hanks should garner himself an Oscar nomination for what is a truly stunning performance.
Captain Phillips is showing at Cineworld cinemas nationwide