When it comes to adaptations of real-life events, it might even more tempting to make a movie too much of one thing or another. A movie like Captain Phillips, in particular, could have gone in so many directions: A gung-ho, almost jingoistic military film; a terror-infused movie focusing on the brutality of Somali pirates; or an adventure movie focusing on the drama on the high seas.
Captain Phillips manages to be enough of each of those movies and not too much of either one. The best word to describe the movie is balanced, and that’s not a lukewarm compliment. Tom Hanks is exceptional in the title role, and Barkhad Abdi shines as the lead pirate.
But the performances are not all that make this movie exceptional. By contrasting the worries and concerns of Captain Phillips with the home life of Muse, the “captain” of the pirates, the film creates a tapestry of the world and lives that makes their collision and its outcome all the more jarring. They end up where they are for the same reason, and yet they are coming from two places that couldn’t be more different. It is in that juxtaposition, expertly balanced without trying to apologize for the acts of the pirates, that Captain Phillips excels.