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Review: Captain Phillips

Whenever I hear stories in the news of Somali pirates boarding a ship and holding the crew hostage, I have always assumed that (a) the ship was a small yacht and (b) the pirates were hardbitten, battle-scarred men. Not that the former was an enormous oceangoing container ship and the latter boys barely out of school.

In April 2009, 240 miles off the coast of Somalia, the US-flagged Maersk Alabama was en route to Mombasa in Kenya when it fell victim to one such attack. Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his crew of 20, armed with little more with high-pressure hoses and a handbook of evasive manoeuvres, failed in their attempts to repel the pirates and are overrun. The film, ably directed by Paul Greengrass (of Bourne and United 93 fame), details the events of the ensuing crisis over the following five days.

Greengrass is refreshingly unbiased in his portrayal of the incident. Indeed, at times it is hard to decide which side to root for – the haphazard group of teenage boys who try to stage a simple hijacking and get far more than they bargained for, or the family man who is trying to keep his crew safe in unimaginable circumstances. Nobody’s a winner.

Big on emotion rather than action, at least until the US Navy SEALs wade in, the drama is muted, limited to the claustrophobic confines of a series of boats. But it is nonetheless compelling. Featuring one of Hanks’ finest roles in recent years, and an astounding performance from Barkhad Abdi as the leader of the pirate group, the tension is there right up until the final minutes…

134 minutes| 12A | October 16 2013
Watched: October 25 2013, Vue Leicester Square, Screen 4

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