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Review: First-time actors elevate intensity of 'Captain Phillips'

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Tom Hanks and a stunning cast of first-time actors from Minneapolis make a huge splash with the high seas thriller "Captain Phillips," a suspenseful retelling of the true-life hijacking the US Maersk Alabama four years back. The film is no doubt hampered by the fact that it was a widely-reported incident -- which effectively takes away the element of surprise -- but director Paul Greengrass ("United 93") still manages to ratchet up the tension for most of the film's 134-minute runtime.

Based on the real Phillips' 2010 memoir "A Captain's Duty," Hanks is great as always as the title character in "Captain Phillips," a veteran ship captain whose container vessel is overtaken during by four Somali pirates during a run through the horn of Africa in 2009. Doing his best to outsmart the pirates to protect the ship's 20-person crew, Phillips ends up being kidnapped by the pirates, who try to use the Maersk Alabama's lifeboat as a means of escape in their return to Somalia.

Hanks, of course, is the only name star in "Captain Phillips," but nearly stealing the show from him is Barkhad Abdi as the lead pirate Abduwali Muse. Abdi brings a tense performance of nervous unpredictability to the role, giving off the feeling that he's been acting for years. Not to be over-shadowed, though, is Abdi's co-star Faysal Ahmed, who is just as if not more frightening as the second-in-command on the mission -- who has much shorter of a fuse than the leader he reluctantly takes orders from.

While Greengrass sustains the intensity for most of the film, an unusually long scene featuring Hanks at the end of the film starts to dampen the impact by the time it concludes. Plus, more of a peek into what gave the pirates their absolute sense of fearlessness while literally in the face of warships and Navy SEALs during their rescue mission would have been a welcome addition. Neither of the shortcomings, though, should keep anybody away from "Captain Phillips," which will no doubt charge full-steam ahead as Awards season gets underway.

"Captain Phillips," rated PG-13, 3 stars out of 4.

What other critics are saying ...

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press gives the film 3 1/2 stars out of four, saying while viewers will instantly recall the real-life events of the film, they'll "still be met by a gripping and intelligent adventure."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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