The one aspect I was most impressed with after watching Captain Phillips was how director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray chose to make us feel something for both sides in the conflict. It's surprising that I should feel anything at all really as the film is somewhat procedural in its nature, but that is what makes the film have an impact in the first place. We observe Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks in another incredible turn) interact with his crew and later as he lies to pirates to keep them safe. We observe Muse (Barkhad Abdi, a revelation of a performance) come from an impoverished land where crime is his only out and later as he attempts to get the upper hand on Phillips by taking him hostage aboard a lifeboat. We empathize with them both. We understand who they are, what they are doing, where the come from, and why they are doing what they need to do. By the film's end when both characters have had their sensibilities shattered, emotion just naturally comes seeping into the film's fabric of a storyline and character arc. Michael Mann recently complimented Greengrass on his latest film and rightfully so as this film's structure somewhat reminds of Mann's The Insider. That was another film that might've felt driven by plot as you watched it, but the nature of events then leads to a deeper understanding of each singular character.
Of course much has already been written about Greengrass's cinematic style. His use of handicam is matched by no one else. Along with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (United 93, Green Zone, The Hurt Locker, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) every move feels almost choreographed. So many other filmmakers just use the shaky camera to create a sense of chaos and their intent seemingly ends there. Greengrass takes it a step further as he brings us right into the middle of the situation to understand not just the story, but to place us alongside these characters. Every shake, every zoom, and every rattle feels intentional. Whether it was the car chase in The Bourne Supremacy, the storming of the cockpit in United 93, or the final foot chase in Green Zone- Greengrass seems to operate the monopoly on skillfull handicam work without any doubt.