By: Mary Fran Bontempo

Captain PhilipsThere’s no way four raggedy, skinny men can motor a little skiff next to a gigantic ocean liner, board it and take it, and its crew, captive. As far as movie scripts go, it’s an unbelievable plot line.

But incredible as it may seem, this was no movie script, at least until it was turned into one for the film, Captain Phillips, in theaters now.

Captain Phillips relays the true story of the hijacking at sea of the U.S. flagged MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in 2009. The taking of the ship marked the first hijacking of an American cargo ship in two hundred years.

It’s an astounding, harrowing tale, and the fear, from the captain’s first look at the pirates through binoculars on til the movie’s final moments, is palpable.

What’s more astounding is that the pirates, careening towards the huge ship in a beat up boat with a failing outboard motor, have first the audacity to attempt what they do and then accomplish it. They’re intent on a multi-million dollar payday, and the machine guns they brandish about in the faces of the unarmed crew make it seem likely that they’ll get what they want.

But the plan goes awry, and before long, the pirates are leaving the ship in a life vessel with the Maersk’s captain aboard. The logic? If they can’t hold the ship, they’re still pretty confident the United States will pay dearly for one of its own.

Finally, the Navy arrives, ratcheting up the tension even farther, if possible. Even knowing the outcome, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

America’s Everyman, Tom Hanks, does a masterful job, as usual, of portraying an ordinary guy who becomes a hero, whether he wants to or not. And the Somali pirates, with newcomer Barkhad Abdi, as Somali pirate captain, Muse, are absolutely menacing.

Despite grumblings that it’s not entirely accurate, the truth at the heart of the story only serves to up the emotional ante. It’s an incredible tale, and movie making at its best. But if you like to settle in and relax during a movie, forget Captain Phillips. Relaxing is nowhere on the Maersk’s manifest.