If suspense is your genre, October is your month. Last weekend, the big-screen spectacle of "Gravity" took audiences to the desperate void of outer space. Earlier this week, "The Saratov Approach" gave us the true story of a pair of LDS missionaries caught up in a hostage situation. Now "Captain Phillips" arrives for the hat trick, and more than maintains the high standards established by its peers.
"Captain Phillips" offers the true story of a recent hostage crisis, and centers its sights on the delicate relationship between captive and captor. It takes place on the open sea, off the coast of Somalia. Tom Hanks, at the peak of his skills, plays real-life captain Richard Phillips.
The film opens with a situation that is routine and almost mundane: An American freighter called the Maersk Alabama has been loaded with cargo and is ready to travel down the east African coast. But as Captain Phillips arrives at the helm of his new ship, he is concerned by the too-laid-back attitude of his crew. Rumblings of emboldened pirate attacks have left him on edge.
His concerns are justified. Back on the Somali shore, captains assemble squads of potential raiders from local villagers like they are choosing teams for a pickup basketball game. Among these recruits is Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a cagey and ambitious character whose intensity belies his wiry frame. They jump in boats, set off from shore and the hunt is on.
If you've seen the movie trailer or any of the TV promos for this film (or if you remember the actual story from spring 2009), you know what comes next: The pirates take control of the ship, and a hostage standoff ensues. What the trailer doesn't show you (to its credit) is the intense sequence of events that follows as the initial face-off between a freighter captain and a third-world pirate balloons into a global conflict involving the U.S. Navy.
While Hanks helms the Maersk Alabama, Paul Greengrass helms the director's chair, bringing the same intensity of tone and style he applied to the second and third "Bourne" films. But where those films were built around action, "Captain Phillips" uses its fisticuffs and mayhem more sparingly, more strategically, while sacrificing none of its suspense.
Tom Hanks has had many great acting moments over the years, winning Oscars for his roles in "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump" back in the '90s. It's probably too early to speculate whether he'll pick up a third statue for his role in "Captain Phillips," but it's no stretch to suggest that his work here, especially in the final 10-15 minutes of the film, will resonate among the best of his previous efforts. There are plenty of reasons to go see "Captain Phillips," but this performance should top the list.
"Captain Phillips" is rated PG-13 for profanity and scenes of intense (though mostly discreet) violence.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on the "KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English Composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.