Tom Hanks, the guy we recognize often as our ‘common man’ actor, adds another role that allows us to consider him as that ‘the common man’.  Here he is as Richard Phillips, a captain of those large container ships, approaching the job just like you and I would approach our work – an ordinary day, an ordinary gig, a day at the office complete with clipboards, computer work, shop talk with the co-workers.  Oh yes, he was aware that they were going to sail through the Somali waters that were known to be haunted by pirates, but that was no bigger a deal than you or me facing tornado warnings or lockdown or other such emergencies…. You go through the drills just to be ready, all done in the same way we approach any standard operating procedure – and so did Tom in his work as Captain Phillips.


But then – let’s add the excitement of one of those drills suddenly stepping itself up to a real life event.  The body and soul kick it up a bit when the phrase “THIS IS NOT A DRILL” is proclaimed over an intercom system.  Let’s add, too, some very frightening pirates (led by Minnesota resident Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leader MUSE) who are desperate to raid a large ship, desperate to make some money, and high on khat.  (it’s a drug that will get you hyped and pumped in an amphetamine type way …. It’s not just a coffee break, folks…).


We see the pirates attempt to take the ship and fail… we see Captain Phillips and his crew follow procedure to keep the pirates away – until there’s a breach in the defenses that allows the second attempt to succeed… the pirates board the ship, and the story becomes intense…. The crew does what it can to fend off the attack, but must resort to saving themselves – with a few interesting twists … and the pirates certainly do what they can to intimidate those captured.   Ransoms, hostages – it’s all there.


And now add some steps taken by the military to defuse the attack…. Soldiers and sailors who are trained in such situations – negotiators, sharpshooters, swimmers, radar technicians…..


And then end the story – I think it’s safe to say that things turn out well for Captain Phillips, since we know he survives to write a book about it (on which the movie is based) – but then, do you recall any moment in life when a crisis has struck you and passed?  How did you act when it was all done?  Did you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, that’s done.”?  I don’t think so – there’s a whole lot more to it than that.  There’s some real   Tom Hanks moments here.


Pay attention, too, to Barkhad Abdi, the young man from Minnesota who plays the pirates’ leader.  It is his first film.  He manages to find a way to let us see the desperation of the Somali pirates as they scramble for jobs with the various pirate crews out there – having to ‘buy’ their way into working for this pirate or that one … and sometimes the price (at least according to the movie) was a good stash of Khat, or maybe even a sister.


On the technical side, I was amazed how the large container ship could have been made to seem so confining.  The reverse can be said for the pirates’ attack boats … these small craft suddenly seem seaworthy and intimidating.  The camera work done on the lifeboat grabs our attention, making that particular craft seem large in one scene, tiny in others.  Then there’s the arrival of the naval ships – looming, imposing, and very high tech – they get everyone’s attention.


There’s not a lot of humor – not much comic relief … but then, neither does a regular day at the office, and like I said, that’s how the movie begins.  Be ready for this ordinary feeling at the beginning .. And be ready to ride along the waves of the emotions as they cascade across the screen.


Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi are the leads – several other actors (very few women – there’s a wife at the onset and a nurse at the end) deliver a good range of seagoing workers, both as the boat’s crew and as the pirates.  Academy award nominations will show up here.


The movie is directed by Phillip Greenglass, with a screen play by Billy Ray, based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talry.  Producers include Scott Rudin, Dana Brunette, Michael De Luca, with executive production from Gregory Goodman, Eli Bush, and Kevin Spacey.