Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips"
Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips"

Tom Hanks has never been as emotionally naked as in the final five minutes of "Captain Phillips." It's a powerful catharsis after the harrowing ordeal with the Somali pirates, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it was unscripted and improvised with the actual medic on duty in the infirmary (Danielle Albert). I dissected the memorable scene with Hanks and director Paul Greengrass (watch below). Despite a very competitive race, it's generating buzz about a potential third Oscar for the popular actor.

Turns out they shot the initial ending in which Phillips is alone for the first time after the rescue and gathers himself. But it didn't deliver the emotional impact they were seeking.

"The actual captain of the Bainbridge, Frank Castellano, was there observing us," Hanks recalls, "and we asked when he met Phillips and he said [that it wasn't until] after he came out of the infirmary. And we said, infirmary? 'He was such a mess that we had to find out if he was injured.' Paul asked to check it out. It could have been a scene of seven seconds that turned the other scene into something that might have made more sense. 

"But I didn't know what was necessarily going to happen. I felt comfortable because we were authentically capturing the procedure that goes on and that's the only thing that matters. We weren't making anything up -- we weren't slapping something in there to cover a bald spot."

Of course, Greengrass, the dedicated documentarian, seized the serendipitous moment. For him, filmmaking is a haphazard process with purpose, searching down a dark tunnel with a tiny flashlight that only works intermittently, trying to find the way.

"And then that magical thing happens called opportunity," Greengrass suggests. "And of course going from the captain's cabin down to the medical room was a nightmare with a film crew from one end of the warship to the other. 'OK, guys we're gonna go into the medical room and we're gonna shoot a scene -- I don't know exactly what it is but we're gonna sort it out when we get there.' And essentially everyone goes into a state of blind panic, or acting on instinct, which is a really good place to make a film because everybody stops thinking about it and just acts. You get into a frenzy and here's a young medical officer who just considers it a training exercise, who's told to forget that it's Tom Hanks and goes white."