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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Four years ago, Captain Richard Phillips and his freighter crew were attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The incident made headlines and inspired a memoir that, in turn, inspired a movie. The film is called "Captain Phillips" and Tom Hanks plays the title character. Our critic, Bob Mondello, says it's a gripping thriller.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: As the Maersk freighter Alabama rounds the Horn of Africa a day or so out of port in April 2009, Captain Richard Phillips isn't leaving much to chance. Recent hijackings by Somali pirates have him and his crew on edge, so they've been running security drills and as it happens, they're in the middle of one when he spots two blips on the ship's radar.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS")

TOM HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) I don't like the look of that.

MONDELLO: He likes it even less when he peers through binoculars.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS")

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) They're coming in fast.

MONDELLO: Fishing skiffs, men with assault rifles looking at the freighter the way Ahab looked at Moby Dick. Phillips radios for help.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS")

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) Potential piracy situation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Copy, Alabama. You should alert your crew and get your fire hedges ready.

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) Yeah, is that it?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Chances are it's just fishermen.

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) They're not here to fish.

MONDELLO: Captain Phillips gets creative.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS")

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) (Unintelligible) that ladder.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible) degrees.

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) (Unintelligible) degrees.

MONDELLO: And that buys the crew time, but the big lumbering freighter can't outrun the skiffs and soon they've been boarded.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS")

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) Lock down the bridge. Listen up. You know the drill. We stay hidden no matter what. I don't want any hostages.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Go, go, go, go.

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) If the pirates find you, remember, you know the ship. They don't. They can feel like they're in charge, but keep them away from the important things like the generator and the engine controls.

MONDELLO: All sensible, all pointless. Moments later, four Somali pirates are on the bridge and Phillips only has his wits to work with.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS")

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) We got a problem. We pushed the ship too hard. We're off the grid. That means the computer's now offline.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Unintelligible)

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) The ship's broken.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Captain, no one gets hurt if you don't play no game.

MONDELLO: The lead pirate, gaunt, young and scarily calm.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Look at me.

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Look at me.

HANKS: (As Richard Phillips) Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I'm the captain now.

MONDELLO: Director Paul Greengrass is the guy who made the second and third "Bourne" movies, not to mention the nightmarish 9/11 drama "United 93." So he's an old hand at ratcheting up tension and for this first half of "Captain Phillips," the movie works just the way you'd expect. Then, Phillips gets trapped with the pirates in a tiny enclosed lifeboat, separate from the ship, and the film shifts into less charted dramatic waters, becoming both more intimate, as two very different captains square off, and more politically intriguing as the desperation of the Somalis comes into sharper focus.

The end game, which actually happened, remember, can't help playing like a Navy SEAL recruitment film, but Greengrass makes the pirates strikingly individual. And Tom Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi are so compellingly matched that unlike most thrillers, it won't be the action climax in "Captain Phillips" that'll stick with you. It's the aftermath, which gets at the emotional toll of terrorism in a way few movies have. I'm Bob Mondello.

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