'Captain Phillips' One Big Scene: A Pirate's Life for Tom Hanks

One Big Scene is a weekly column dedicated to spectacular visual sequences we’re recommending you see in the theater. If you have ones you’d like us to write about, let us know in the comments section.

 
It’s hard to see Tom Hanks at sea and not think about him swimming after either Daryl Hannah’s mermaid or, of course, Wilson the volleyball. But there’s something different in the dangerous waters awaiting Hanks in Captain Phillips – Somali pirates who are trying to board his freightliner and boost his cargo. And with director Paul Greengrass at the helm, you know that this ripped-from-the-headlines drama is going to deliver a harrowing, intense ride that isn’t for the weak-willed moviegoing audience. 
 
Captain Phillips has been generating awards buzz ever since it premiered at the New York Film Festival earlier this month. There’s one scene, in particular, that stands apart from the film, and is a moment I won’t soon forget. Let’s dissect it in this week’s One Big Scene. 
 
The Scene
 
 
One thing I didn’t realize about the men and women working massive cargo ships through dangerous international waters is that they spend every waking moment in fear of pirates. Not Captain Jack Sparrow and his band of Disney misfits. But well-armed, desperate hijackers who use small boats to race alongside huge ships in hopes of taking hostages, stealing money and bringing wealth back to their poor villages. 
 
Greengrass’ drama re-creates one specific event from 2009, when Phillips’ boat, the Maersk Alabama, was boarded by Somali pirates… but not before the crew employed several strategic maneuvers meant to keep the pirates off of the boat. 
 
That’s the scene in question. You might have seen snippets of it in trailers and commercials. Because piracy is a harsh reality on the high seas, boats like the Alabama are equipped with powerful hoses, well-placed gates, flare guns and other methods used to prevent pirates from getting on a ship. Because it takes a ton of effort to change the course of direction on a ship like the Alabama, Phillips (Hanks) wasn’t able to outrun or avoid his potential hijackers. But he does everything in his – and his crew’s – powers to stop the band of criminals from getting on his ship.
 
In a thrilling sequence, hoses blast jets of water at the pirates’ rickety ship. Phillips shoots flare guns at his antagonists, and the rudder of the massive Alabama is adjusted to try and shake the pirates off the boat once they begin to climb. 
 
It’s a breathtaking chase sequence staged on the high seas, and it’s one of many Captain Phillips scenes that need to be seen on the big screen.  
 
Where do the critics stand on Greengrass' movie?
 
What Critics Are Saying
 
 “Captain Phillips unfurls with an intensity that knocks the wind out of you. Director Paul Greengrass' film is the most gripping based-on-fact film so far this year.”
- Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News
 
“At every step, Hanks excels at showing what's really going on in the character's mind while maintaining his facade of almost folksy calm. It isn't one of the actor's rangiest roles, but it culminates in an eruption of emotional fireworks.”
- Scott Foundas, Variety
 
"One of the year's best films."
- Lou Lumenick, New York Post
 
Captain Phillips opens everywhere on October 11. 
 

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