Tom Hanks has built a career out of playing aggressively noble roles, so it's only natural to want to see him taken down a peg. But it's no fun to watch him suffer at the hands of Somali pirates in Paul Greengrass's true-life adventure Captain Phillips
, adapted from Richard Phillips's memoir. Still, Hanks can be a marvelous performer, and here he lets out one hell of a quiet roar. Hanks plays the commander of the Maersk Alabama, a U.S. cargo ship en route to Kenya beset by Somali pirates. After trying to negotiate with these aggressive, trigger-happy extortionists, he somehow persuades them to release the ship and its crew in exchange for the wad of cash stashed in the ship's safe. The solution, of course, isn't as simple as that, and the ordeal that unfolds over the next five days involves further fruitless negotiation, countless bumps and bruises, and, ultimately, bloodshed of the sort Robert Louis Stevenson never imagined. Especially for a modern adventure movie, Captain Phillips
is spectacularly well-made: Greengrass has given us serious-minded pictures (Bloody Sunday
, United 93
) and entertainments that skitter and scamper across rooftops and continents (The Bourne Supremacy
, The Bourne Ultimatum
), and he's adept at keeping things moving without gumming up the works. Greengrass attempts to humanize the pirates, and his actors--particularly Barkhad Abdi as the leader, Muse, and Barkhad Abdirahman as addled teenager Bilal-- are superb. But Captain Phillips gets dangerously close to making a "these people just can't help themselves" defense, which is a particularly subtle, if unintentional, kind of racism.
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