‘Captain Phillips’ utilizes two masterful performances to stage its taut exposition
“This is my boat now.”
With that one quote, malicious Somali pirate Muse announced his intentions to take over the titular Captain Phillips’ boat.
And with that quote, a first-time actor (Barkhad Abdi) showed that he was more than capable of going blow-for-blow with the legendary Tom Hanks. In a rare moment of complete captivation, Captain Phillips (the film, not the character) kicks into high gear.
For a story that I already knew the outcome of, I was kept on the edge of my seat for the entire length of the film in a similar way to two of the most successful films of last year (Argo and Zero Dark Thirty). This was partly due to director Paul Greengrass’ ability to craft a moment of tension. Henry Jackman’s score only makes the moments tenser.
But, this film belonged to the two lead actors.
Once Barkhad Abdi’s character Muse comes aboard the boat and announces his intention to supplant Tom Hanks’ Richard Phillips as captain, Captain Phillips went from a pedestrian thriller to one of the year’s best films. Without the dedicated performances of Hanks and Abdi, this would not have happened.
In the role of Captain Richard Phillips, Hanks gives his best performance since 2002’s Road to Perdition (an extremely underrated film). Hanks makes the viewer feel as if you are stuck in that miserable situation with him in an agonizing way.
However, the real treat was Barkhad Abdi.
No one bats an eyelash at a great Tom Hanks performance. He’s a legend. It’s expected. But when an unknown actor shows up and is able to hold his own with a legend, attention is to be expected. Actually, in a few scenes, Abdi steals the spotlight from Hanks, a rare task if there ever was one.
Abdi plays Muse, a Somali pirate who is tasked with the grade school kickball-esque task of picking a crew to help him hold a cargo ship hostage. In his first ever film role, Abdi gives a menacingly realistic performance. A nomination for Best Supporting Actor would not be out of the question.
Honestly, the other characters, and subsequently the performances of the actors who portrayed them, were unmemorable. Even a quick appearance from Oscar nominee Katherine Keener fell by the wayside. But, it didn’t matter. Hanks and Abdi’s performances, along with Grengrass’ direction and Jackman’s score, were more than enough to keep this film afloat as one of the year’s best so far.