'Captain Phillips'
'Captain Phillips'

The high drama that befell the freighter Maersk Alabama off the Somali coast in April 2009, in which pirates boarded the ship and took its captain hostage, has been given a highly-charged immediacy in a new thriller from the director of "The Bourne Supremacy" and "United 93."

Like those two thrillers -- one an international spy caper, the other a ripped-from-the-headlines docudrama about the 9/11 attacks -- the new Paul Greengrass film, "Captain Phillips," uses fly-on-the-wall camerawork, quicksilver editing, and extraordinary attention to detail to make the events of the ship's hijacking gripping and utterly believable.

But "Captain Phillips," which premiered Friday at the New York Film Festival (and which opens nationwide on October 11), would not work nearly as well as it does were it not for the strong characters at its center: Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), a veteran maritime sailor who is all business on board; and Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a desperate Somali fisherman who has turned to piracy.

“Captain Phillips” unfurls with an intensity that knocks the wind out of you. Director Paul Greengrass’ film — which opens the 51st New York Film Festival tonight before hitting theaters Oct. 11 — is the most gripping based-on-fact film so far this year.

Proving once again that true stories with foregone conclusions can be just as gripping as a conventional thriller, Paul Greengrass's tense, overwhelming Captain Phillips faithfully, fiercely recounts the siege of the American container ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in April of 2009. The titular captain was the visible hero of the ordeal, and of course he's played here by Tom Hanks, with a paunch and beard that makes him only more relatable as our go-to American Everyman. The affected Boston accent indicates some effort at capturing the real Phillips, but Hanks's performance is all about natural authority and courage, with a commitment and deep emotion that reflects the film's propulsive, relentless drive.

But politics aside, “Captain Phillips” is ultimately a harrowing portrait of desperate men in desperate situations and just how far they’ll go in their dire circumstances. It’s a breathlessly told movie; both meticulous and frenetic, sweat-soaked and methodical. It will take hold and won’t let you go, and it’s one of the most engaging movies of the year. [A]