The events surrounding the attack by Somalian pirates on an American freighter and the subsequent abduction of the ship's Captain were front page news a few years ago and I still remembered them partially. To see it turned into a movie was an exciting prospect, so I was looking forward to give Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's release of "Captain Phillips" a closer look.
It all starts like a routine trip for Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks). As instructed by his headquarter, he takes control of the "Maersk Alabama," a large freight vessel filled mostly with food for the starving population, to run it from Oman to Mombasa. As they cruise the quiet seas, a news alert comes through that there is increased pirate activity off the coast of Somalia, a report that unsettles Phillips and makes him keep a watchful eye on the radar and the ocean surrounding them.
And in fact, outside the major shipping lanes, they are suddenly approached by two small boats, filled with armed men. It quickly becomes evident that they are pirates and not, as they claim the Coast Guard. Phillips and his crew manage to shake off the pirates, leaving them in their wake, but on the next day, Phillips finds that once again, the pirates are on his heel. This time with a faster boat, and despite their best efforts, the crew of the "Maersk Alabama" are unable prevent the pirates from boarding the vessel. While the deck crew is hiding deep in the bowels of the ship, Captain Phillips and his bridge crew are taken hostage by a handful of armed men as they try to take control of the super freighter. Over and over again, things come to a head and violence explodes, forcing the pirates to a retreat in one of the ship's life boats. But in a last second twist of events, they decide to take Captain Phillips hostage and escape with him in the bright orange vessel. Soon they have not only the "Maersk Alabama" on their heel, trying to rescue their captain, but also the US Navy and their elite team of Seals.
The best way to describe "Captain Phillips" is that it is one of the most intense films I have seen in a long time. The race to escape the pirates is highly suspenseful and will keep you rooting for the entirely unarmed crew of the "Maersk Alabama," but once the pirates come aboard, the film turns into one frenzied high wire act. There isn't a moment of peace. The tension is tangible, as some of the pirates are completely loose cannons, hyped up with drugs, short-tempered and not afraid to use their automatic rifles. Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips to the hilt, with his valiant attempts to mislead the pirates in order to keep his crew safe, putting his own life on the line every minute of the film. But even the bravest of men has a breaking point, and as the drama gets more and more intense, the cracks appear, as the captain ultimately realizes that he has become a mere pawn in this game. And yet, over and again he finds the strength to fight back.
The Blu-Ray release features a pristine 1080p high definition transfer of the movie in its original 2.40:! aspect ratio. There is no defect or blemish and no hint of grain evident in the presentation. Boasting solid colors, the release brings across a natural-looking palette that ensures the film's realistic look, while solid black levels give the image depth that often adds to the intensity, particularly in the darkened bowels of the ship.
A DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track accompanies the movie that is balanced and adds to the film with its ominous drones in the soundtrack. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable and while surround effects do not play an important part in this character driven film for the most part, when called upon they are dished out with bravado. Bullets zinging around your head and the claustrophobic ambiance of the lifeboat pitching and rolling wildly while water is slapping against the hollow hull, are reproduced to perfection in this track.
Among the extras on this release you will find a commentary track with director Paul Greengrass on this release. It is an interesting track that discusses the movie in quite some detail and gives viewers a better understanding of many of the aspects involved in the movie's production.
Also included is a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the film, but it is really no more than your typical making of.
I was disappointed that there was no a single supplement on the disc relating to the real events surrounding the "Maersk Alabama." There's not even a photo of the real Captain Phillips. Considering the news footage that is out there from the events, and considering that the event is of relatively recent, I truly felt this as a let down. There's even a "Mysteries at the Museum" segment covering the event, that could also have potentially been included, but alas. Nothing of it at all, so we are left with the filmmaker's interpretation of things solely.
"Captain Phillips" is an incredibly taut film. Its intensity is matched only by the best thrillers out there and its conclusion is every bit as remarkable. Grab a copy of the film and enjoy it.