Tom Hanks is a star in the old sense of the word. It’s not that he’s a hot target for the paparazzi or signing big endorsement deals. Like the celebrities of Hollywood’s golden ages, Hanks’ stardom stems directly from what he does on-screen.
Hanks always brings himself and his personality into a role, and we’re immediately able to identity who that character is and what he’s about. And while we’ll still see the affable guy we’re familiar with, in “Captain Phillips,” hitting theaters Friday (October 11), he uses his stardom to a very different end.
“Captain Phillips” tells the real-life story of a merchant chip captain who is taken hostage after Somali pirates board his ship. It’s as suspenseful a film as director Paul Greengrass (“Bourne Ultimatum,” “United 93″) has ever made, but it takes an atypical approach to portraying the drama. Hanks as Phillips is an average, middle-class American with a mostly normal job. He doesn’t need to be his usual charming and charismatic self, all he needs to do is come across as a guy that any one of us could know in real life.
One of the amazing things that the film does is compare the normalcy of Phillips’ American life with the circumstances in Somalia, before the pirates leave to hijack the ship. Instead of being anonymous bad guys who threaten the life of Tom Hanks, the pirates, led by Barkhad Abdi in a stellar performance, are shown in their own environment, the otherworldly poverty of Somalia and the warlords that demand payment from them.
That being the case, the tense standoff between the crew of the merchant ship and the pirates is more complex and emotional, especially with someone we know, Hanks, in the middle of it. “Captain Phillips” isn’t about the main character defeating the bad guy pirates. It’s about a horrific scenario, where we just want him to get out alive, and that’s precisely why everyone is talking about the film’s powerful final scene, which almost didn’t happen.
After SEAL Team 6 rescues Phillips from the pirates, he’s taken to see a medic. There, the doctor looks for injuries to him and asks a nearly catatonic, but emotional Phillips questions about his health. It’s some of Hanks’ finest acting in a long time, but it doesn’t rely on our expectations of him as a star. That status only underlines the power of the scenes.
As Hanks explained at a press conference for the film (via ComigSoon.net), the scene wasn’t scripted. The crew planned to shoot another ending where Phillips would be left by himself for the first time since the ordeal started, but instead, Greengrass asked one of the real-life Naval officers involved what happened immediately after the rescue. They shot the scene for about a half an hour with a medic from the film crew, and it resulted in a praise-worthy sequence that may be the most un-Tom-Hanks Tom Hanks scene of all time.
“Captain Phillips” is in theaters now.