It’s a scene I’ve returned to many times and one that can’t escape my mind since I saw it over nine years ago. The concluding sequence to Captain Phillips floors me each time I view it. It is simultaneously uplifting and devastating and features quite possibly the best three minutes of acting from Tom Hanks (and that’s saying a lot).
The scene also frustrates me to this day. Not because of anything in it. It reminds me that Hanks was snubbed of an Oscar nomination for the picture. That’s a travesty. I don’t care that he’s won two gold statues and was nominated for four more. He deserved recognition for what he did here.
As a reminder, Phillips from director Paul Greengrass recounts the Somali hijacking of the Maersk Alabama with Hanks in the title role. One of the pirates is played in an Academy nominated performance from Barkhad Abdi and the denoument finds him surviving after U.S. marksmen take out his cohorts. Phillips lives too after begging for his life in a scene that’s expertly constructed and nail bitingly tense (even though we know the outcome).
Yet it’s the aftermath that sticks with me. Phillips is taken to an infirmary after the ordeal. Clearly in shock, the confused Captain is cared for by a Naval medic. What you might not know is that the “actress” playing her (Danielle Albert) was a real sailor enlisted for the scene on the day of the shoot. Her interaction with one of the biggest stars in the world is unforgettable. However, there’s not a moment in it where you’re thinking of Hanks. It feels like you’re experiencing his trauma and his bewilderment when trying to articulate the blood on his body and the pain he feels.
Albert’s work is understandably authentic. This took a few viewings to appreciate her matter-of-fact style. The way she simply and flatly says You’re welcome when Phillips expresses gratitude. He needs to hear a common response to shake him from his nightmare.
This closing chapter wasn’t even in the script. Greengrass and his collaborators figured out that they needed a more potent ending. Mission accomplished and then some. The long journey to safety for Captain Phillips is undoubtedly an example of Movie Perfection.