The film is based on the Maersk Alabama Hijacking where in the captain of the ship was taken hostage. When the failed attempt to hijack this cargo vessel and capture & release of the captain by a band of Somali pirates is made into a movie, Paul Greengrass is at the helm as the director. Paul Greengrass has a unique way of transporting us to the middle of the drama using his signature narrative style using intelligent camera work, slick editing, and engaging background score. He can combine many minute details into making a movie that makes you glued to the seat. He is so successfully in packaging all these that we are unable to point out one single thing but his grasp of the medium.
The book "A Captain's Duty" by Richard Phillips forms the basis of the screenplay. Paul Greengrass has used the format of a thriller; the thrills are not due to superhuman feats but man's instinct for survival. Captain Phillips played by Tom Hanks is an ordinary man with simple worries about a safe future for his children. He arrives in Salalah in charge of cargo headed for Mombasa. While transporting this cargo, his ship is attacked by pirates headed by Abduwale Muse(Barkhad Abdi). The pirates do not succeed in capturing the vessel, but they take Captain Phillips as their hostage. On the other side, Muse is pushed by village elders to undertake a mission. In the process, he becomes determined to take over the ship at all costs. This decision eventually causes the downfall.
Although the movie delivers what it is supposed to, there are drawbacks. The book can only offer the author's point of view especially since it is an autobiography. But a movie can have a more balanced perspective. I am not asking to justify the motives of pirates. There is no background information. A good look at the ragtag team of Muse and their demands for millions makes you wonder where does all the money go. The movie touches upon on this subject when Tom Hanks asks about why Muse is in the lifeboat trying to escape possible capture if he had millions. But the thread is never taken up the Barkhad Abdi or pursued by the makers. What drives these people to take extreme measures? Why is survival very difficult in that part of the world? The above question present challenges. If the director explores these issues the genre will change. Without even a brief overview of Somali situation, the movie turns out to be one-sided.
Tom Hanks delivers an impressive performance as Captain Phillips. The scenes where he negotiates with the hostages, the climactic scene in the lifeboat and his interaction with the nurse after his release shows his mettle as an actor. As a reviewer, it is tough to judge the actors playing the Somali pirates as they have no previous performance that can be used as measuring stick. Barkhad Abdi gets more screen presence and lingers in our memory. As a result, we overlook a good performance is Faysal Ahmed as Najee. Najee is the muscle behind the hijack. He is always angry and impulsive. These characters traits makes him hot headed and stupid.