The third based-on-truth film* about pirates hijacking a container ship I’ve seen in as many months, clearly this new subgenre – sort of Die Hard on the ocean waves – is capturing audiences’ imaginations.
Oscar winner Tom Hanks adopts a Vermont accent, kisses his wife goodbye (one short scene for the excellent and thus underused Catherine Keener) and heads to sea, only to have his straightforward freight-delivering journey swiftly corrupted by a band of plucky Somali pirates. No nonsense and convincingly taciturn, Hanks is terrific as the captain who must keep his men safe at all costs, without costing his shipping company the millions of dollars demanded by their captors.
Director Paul Greengrass (purveyor of two Bourne films, and the 9/11 drama United 93) is a dab hand at gilding fiction with a documentary feel through handheld camerawork (which may induce sea-sickness initially but thankfully calms down) and casting the most naturalistic of faces. The standout performance here, effortlessly embodying the chief pirate, is Somali-born Barkhad Abdi who was driving taxis in Minnesota before being cast in his debut role. Notwithstanding Abdi’s terrifyingly thin physique and piercing, dead-eyed pragmatism, he carries the bulk of the scenes whenever Hanks’ beleaguered captain needs to take a rest. The fact that Abdi was cast alongside the three friends with whom he auditioned renders their tacit camaraderie all the more compelling.
The story gets urgent quickly and never lets up, giving insight into how ships fight such situations (for example using water cannons to deter those attempting to board).
However, despite the life and death situation, half-way through the narrative finds itself somewhat lost at sea – hamstrung, perhaps, by its commitment to facts but disappointingly one-note in its resolution. Audiences will either be sufficiently caught up in the drama or irked by the entrance of the obligatory knight in shining armour. But the tale is well-executed and certainly one of the more intelligent hostage dramas of recent times.
* Since you asked – the Danish film festival hit A Hijacking is superior. Rent it if you can.