Director Paul Greengrass, as he did in "United 93" and two Bourne movies, powerfully pumps up the tense action with shaky, jittery, though sometimes overdone, camera work by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and quick editing by Christopher Rouse. Greengrass did need to modulate Henry Jackman's music and sound as the volume and almost nonstop noise loses its effectiveness because of the pervasive ramping up. Though the drama relies on a lot of close-ups, the ironic feeling of entrapment in the wide-open ocean does come through.
The story wisely resides in the emotional and psychological interaction between Captain Phillips and the chief pirate Muse. As Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks reliably presents a three-dimensional, empathetic character with depths of emotion and a final scene that astonishes with his brilliant verbal and nonverbal choices. Surprisingly, his equal at every turn is Barkhad Abdi, an American Somali in his acting debut. Abdi delivers a terrifying, ferocious performance that had gut-wrenching intensity informed by desperation. For example, Muse replies when Phillips says, "There's gotta be something other than being a fisherman and kidnapping," "Maybe in America." Earlier, once and I think too briefly, one comment explains that the Chinese overfishing the area drove these previously working fishermen to piracy. Nevertheless, anyone ever kidnapped wants the amazing SEALS on the hunt.
And yet "Captain Phillips" is a good but not a great film, for the pirates lack character arc, too often near caricatures with only a moments of humanity. And Greengrass wants to start at 60 mph instead of ramping up more effectively. At area theaters.