Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) is at the helm of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama on its journey from Oman to Kenya. Off the coast of Somalia, two skiffs close in on the freighter. Boarded by four armed Somalis, Phillips does all he can to defuse a potentially deadly situation. An uneasy negotiation with the head pirate Muse (Abdi) begins, but the situation rapidly deteriorates, and the Captain becomes a hostage. Will he survive?
Director Greengrass (“United 93”) brings his tried and true brand of kinetic filmmaking to this story of a real life 2009 hijacking. A prologue revealing the settled marriage of Phillips and his wife (Keener) is the metaphorical calm before the storm. Greengrass proves himself a master of suspense; for instance, he swiftly cuts from Hanks aboard the ship, to the desperate Somalis as they load up their boats for the attack. Non-professional Abdi goes head to head with Hanks, lending Muse an aura of desperation and menace. The nail-biting tension explodes, leading to a breathtaking coda. You won’t soon forget Hanks’ brilliant performance, even if the Academy (shamefully) did.