I just got back from seeing Captain Phillips. I can still feel the tension in my chest. It was gripping, smart and, at times, absolutely terrifying, which is to be expected from director Paul Greengrass at his best.
The film’s all about pressures – both those imposed on its characters by the situation they’re in and by the wider circumstances that put them in that situation to begin with. It’s incredibly fair and thoughtful, focusing on the Somali hijackers just as much as Phillips and his crew, and never paints them as villains so much as men who have to sleep in a bed they had no part in making.
The pressure all builds right up to the climax when it’s suddenly let go and we’re allowed to unclench our fists for the first time in forever. Tom Hanks gives an extraordinary performance in which he’s calm, collected and in control of himself (if not always his situation) for 99% of the film, and the moment he drops his guard and allows himself to feel the fear and pain he’s been masking is one of the most emotionally cathartic experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema.
It’s like swimming from the bottom of the ocean to the surface and suddenly remembering that you have to breathe, or even that you can.
[An interesting double bill for Captain Phillips might be Zero Dark Thirty, with their similarly frank, relatively unbiased depiction of military operations – the key difference being that the former is from the perspective of someone not formally involved in said operations…
…Or Greengrass’ other hijacking film United 93, also based on real events with a focus on bravery from ordinary people in extreme circumstances, although with a decidedly bleaker ending.]