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Article by Teddy Durgin

Captain Phillips Charts a Commanding Performance By Hanks

I know that Tom Hanks is a great and respected actor. He has starred in big, important movies like "Apollo 13" and "Philadelphia" and has produced some culturally significant films and TV programs - everything from "Band of Brothers" to "The Pacific." He's won Oscars and other accolades and has been likened to a modern-day Jimmy Stewart. But a part of me will always miss the Tom Hanks I first got to know as a kid. That was the Tom Hanks who, along with a fellow "Bosom Buddy," dressed as a chick to live in an all-female apartment building in Manhattan. That was the Tom Hanks who made a "Splash" by getting freaky with a mermaid. That was the Tom Hanks who was the guest of honor at a "Bachelor Party" at which a donkey snorted cocaine and died of a coronary. That was the Tom Hanks who played characters named Kip Wilson and Pep Streebek. It's really quite amazing when you go back and look at the young Hanks starring in those silly flicks opposite the likes of Adrian Zmed and Hooch the Dog. The man always had star quality. He was always the lead guy. But there was nothing in those early flicks that foretold of the kind of performances he now delivers effortlessly in films like "Captain Phillips." In the film, he plays the captain of a cargo ship who in 2009 was assigned to navigate through pirate-infested waters off the coast of Africa. His vessel was indeed seized and he eventually was taken hostage in a lifeboat by four desperate Somalis, who then got into an extremely tense stand-off with the U.S. Navy in international waters. Director Paul Greengrass brings all of his skills to bear in delivering a tense, highly involving thriller that never forgets that it is also a character piece thanks to the considerable talents of Hanks. As Phillips, he has to play a man who fights back his own gnawing fear while trying to maintain the safety of his two dozen or so crew members, all the while playing both a physical and intellectual game of cat and mouse with the four African pirates. It's a magnificent, controlled performance that ultimately becomes an absolute acting showcase in its final moments. It's rare that an actor's performance alone can make my heart actually beat faster and my pulse race. Hanks does that here, especially late. The film is definitely a study in contrasts, too. Hanks' three decades of skill and acting craftsmanship are the main reason to see this movie. But matching him in intensity and on-screen charisma is Barkhad Abdi, who is appearing in his first film here as Muse, the leader of the pirates. Greengrass is able to use the guy's raw qualities - his measured English, his gaunt physical appearance, his tired eyes - to realize a complex villain who you both fear and feel for. There's never any question that this guy has to be stopped, and the film wisely doesn't make him and his gang misunderstood saints. They're just desperate men whose daring crime spiraled out of their control, which made them even more dangerous. Finally, Greengrass of the "Bourne" movies and "United 93" fame finds a story in which his signature shaky cam and scatter-shot jump edits work in complete service of the story. The first half of the film is a case study in building suspense as Muse and the pirates take the ship. The film's smaller-scale second half isn't quite as effective with Phillips in that cramped lifeboat with the surviving pirates. But Greengrass is able to get his camera into the close quarters, and his shaky cam perfectly mimics the motion of the boat as it is thrashed about on the open sea and ultimately caught up in the wake of America's massive warships. This is just an impressive film all around and certainly one of the best of the year.

"Captain Phillips" is rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use.

 

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