Captain Phillips

captainShould the Oscar nominations dry up tomorrow, The Sloth feels Tom Hanks should definitely consider an alternative career in shipping. In Captain Phillips, he could not look more like a distinguished, salty sea dog if he shivered his timbers and danced the hornpipe.

Based on a true story, Captain Phillips recounts the terrifying capture of the Maersk Alabama, a US cargo ship, by Somali pirates in 2009. Sailing on a notorious route from Oman to Mombasa, the ship’s route took it out of the main shipping lanes to sail alone past the Somali coast, leaving it vulnerable to attack.  Boarded by a skiff of armed pirates, Captain Phillips displayed astonishing self possession and quick thinking in successfully protecting his crew from the pirates only for himself to be taken hostage by them in a lifeboat, necessitating the involvement of the US navy in his rescue.

The realism is superb and key to the success of the whole film. Unlike standard Hollywood procedure of shooting water scenes in giant  tanks, director Paul Greengrass – gasp! – shot everything on a real container ship on a real sea, capturing the vulnerability of the vessel despite its immense scale and the terror the crew must have felt on its takeover. Not to leave it there, the actors selected to play the Somali pirates were all non-professionals, picked from an open casting. And this was surely a stroke of genius, for their weathered physicality adds immensely to the tension.

This is being primarily touted as Tom’s big gig and, to be fair, he does a thoroughly splendid job – wait for the final scenes for his Big Oscar Moment. However The Sloth was most impressed by the novice Barkhad Abi as Muse, the pirate captain. By professional standards he is terrific, by non-professional, quite astonishing. Stick a parrot on your shoulder and go see.

UK theatrical release 18 October / UK DVD release 10 February

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