Grade: B+

Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener

Tom Hanks has had a rough run for the past few years. Despite the surprise Best Picture nomination for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (in which his "star" was more of a glorified cameo), Hanks' last few pictures have been duds. Larry Crowne and Cloud Atlas are both forgettable movies that are probably, already, in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart.

Luckily, with Paul Greengrass' help, Hanks has a hit on his hands in the form of Captain Phillips, the real-life story of sea captain Rich Phillips and his white knuckle tale of being taken hostage by Somali pirates in the spring of 2009. While Greengrass uses his signature style with vigor, he doesn't quite bring about the harrowing heartbreak of his best work, United 93, instead opting more for a highbrow Bourne film on the high seas.

Set aboard the Maersk Alabama cargo ship, Captain Phillips uses its slow start to its advantage. Things are routine among the ship as the captain seems to have things in more control than even the lackluster crew of union workers likes. He spends the first hours onboard the ship ordering the crew back to work. His gut tells him they need to be wary of piracy acts, as does an email from government agencies warning of recent pirate activity off of the African coast. The first true day at sea proves that Phillips' gut was right as a small crew of pirates attempts to catch up to the ship. Phillips orders as many protocols as possible, but during the pirates' second attempt, they successfully board the ship and leads Phillips and his crew through a life-or-death, edge-of-your-seat ride of risk and adventure.

Hanks proves why he is loved by cinema audiences. He delves into the role without ever letting up. Too bad we're so familiar with Hanks' style that its easy to forget we're not supposed to be rooting for him to survive, but the character. The supporting cast is mostly made up of no names, with a few familiar character actors thrown in. It's newcomer Barkhad Abdi who steals the show. As the pirate leader, Abdi demands your attention and is innocent and naive enough to actually make you pity his ruthless killer each time he's forced to choose between violence and compassion.

Since the film's premiere at the New York Film Festival in September, controversy has risen in the form of published articles quoting some of the real Phillips' fellow seamen saying that Phillips' story is highly dramatized and heightened. Even after the initial event, when Phillips was crowned an American hero and met with President Obama before publishing a memoir, he was said to be flourishing the story a bit. Perhaps he is, but as far as the movie goes, that's Hollywood. The controversy may hurt the film's chances during award season, much like Zero Dark Thirty definitely felt the effects of bad press after its release. But, Captain Phillips, for what it is, is a fun movie experience. It wants to be as edgy as Argo and Bourne, so its identity crisis can make it feel like a hybrid awards contender/Hollywood actioner. It's good seeing Hanks, however, take over the screen again. It would be no surprise to hear his or Abdi's names a few times in the next few months as the awards start being handed out.

Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 134 minutes

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