London Film Festival opening night galas have been disappointing as of late with us getting the dregs of other various festivals but this year things have picked up with the European premiere of Captain Phillips. Based on a true story, Captain Phillips is about the 2009 hijacking of the US container ship by a crew of Somali pirates with questionable personal hygiene. Tom Hanks plays the title character who puts himself in danger to protect his crew and is dragged down the coast of Somalia while the Navy SEALS try to rescue him. It all sounds like a cut-and-dry thriller but since this is Paul Greengrass' take it quickly turns into a look at Phillips and his counterpart Muse's (Barkhad Abdi) relationship and their roles as leaders of their respective crews.
While the initial hijacking of the ship is perfectly entertaining, it really only gets going once Phillips and four pirates are confined to a 28-foot lifeboat headed to Somalia. It's there where all characters involved are fleshed out and even though the characters apart from Phillips and Muse are paper thin - the aggressive one, the young one and the one who drives and does nothing else -, the tension builds to a climax that really shouldn't be as thrilling as it is since we all know how it's going to end. Barkhad Abdi is already garnering much attention due to his story (left poverty behind when he immigrated to the US and tried out for the role on a whim) and performance and rightfully so; he manages to make you feel empathy for the character despite his heinous actions and he makes him much more interesting than he probably should be.
But as usual Hanks proves he's still got it and if he doesn't find himself being nominated for every award under the sun come awards season I'll be shocked. His performance in the final 5 minutes of the film is so effective almost everyone in my screening emerged from Sony's building wiping their eyes and in desperate need of a hug. It's brilliant edge-of-your-seat stuff, and I can't wait to see again.