By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood September 30, 2013 at 2:11PM
Reviews continue to roll in for Paul Greengrass' "Captain Phillips," following its New York Film Festival premiere. The breathless thriller stars Tom Hanks in the title role as a real-life cargo ship captain contending with Somali pirates. The positive if tempered reactions from early reviews have ratcheted up to glowing praise with this new batch of write-ups: the Telegraph calls Greengrass "at the top of his game" and Hanks' performance "outstanding," while the New York Daily News claims the film is "the most gripping based-on-fact film this year."
In first reviews from early September, Variety wrote that it was a "kinetic docudrama that always impresses without ever connecting emotionally" in the same way as Greengrass' previous films, and Indiewire claimed it does justice to the tense material -- but still plays generally by the book.
The Wrap asserted that the Somali pirates are filmed more like zombies than humans, giving the proceedings a whiff of Rudyard Kipling.
The film hits theaters October 11. Check out the new trailer, after the jump.
Four years after it made headlines, the harrowing ordeal of commercial shipping captain Richard Phillips gets the bigscreen treatment care of verite specialist Paul Greengrass in “Captain Phillips.” The result is a kinetic docudrama that always impresses without ever connecting emotionally in quite the same way as the helmer’s prior “Bloody Sunday” and “United 93,” with which “Phillips” forms a loose trilogy of average Joes and Janes caught in the throes of politically motivated violence. Setting sail with an opening-night berth at the New York Film Festival (where another seafaring epic, “Life of Pi,” launched last year), this impeccably well-made, gripping but grim survival tale should spark a flurry of awards buzz for star Tom Hanks and powerful Somali newcomer Barkhad Abdi, but may prove too grueling to make major waves with Academy voters or the multiplex crowd.
It's hard to imagine "Captain Phillips" in the hands of any other filmmaker -- and "Captain Phillips" in the hands of Greengrass looks exactly like anyone familiar with his work would expect. It does justice to the material even while playing too conscientiously by the book. For better or worse, Greengrass' virtuous approach is a thinkpiece on imperialism that's been smuggled into commercial escapism. "I know how to handle America," the head kidnapper asserts. The outcome, it seems, suggests that America feels the same way about him.
From "Gravity" to "All Is Lost" and "12 Years A Slave," 'tis the season for survival stories and another good one joins this classy club with Captain Phillips, a pulsating account of the kidnapping of the captain of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates. Something of a companion piece for director Paul Greengrass to his superb United 93, which was based on the real-life takeover of one of the 9/11 aircraft, this immaculately made reconstruction of a chaotic incident will have a much better time of it commercially than the earlier film due to the presence of star Tom Hanks and because it has a happy ending.
But while Phillips comes off as resourceful, brave and dedicated, his captors more often than not resemble zombies — Greengrass often shoots them in a way that makes their eyes invisible, rendering them soulless. The group’s leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) gets in a few lines about how his people are victimized by larger nations (who have overfished the waters) and the local warlords (who pocket whatever fortunes these pirates manage to pilfer), but he mostly comes off as a mere monster, constantly chewing khat leaves and glowering.
Greengrass is obviously no colonist — his “Bloody Sunday” was an impassioned tale of Northern Ireland bearing the brunt of British violence — but his portrayal here of a noble white officer suffering at the hands of insidious black pirates smacks of Rudyard Kipling.
British director Paul Greengrass has the rare gift of working with action-thriller material and making something cohesive, layered and complex from it. He did so superbly in United 93 and in his two Bourne films: and with Captain Phillips, an account of Somali pirates boarding an American cargo ship and kidnapping its captain, Greengrass remains at the top of his game.
The film also features an outstanding performance by Tom Hanks, who has been handed his strongest lead role in years: both he and Greengrass should find themselves short-listed for awards in coming months.