"Captain Phillips" is a harrowing movie bristling with tension. It is superb film-making and has incredible performances.

The movie, directed by Paul Greengrass, is based on the true story of the 2009 hijacking of a United Stated-flagged container cargo freighter with 25 crew members and the hostage-taking of the ship's captain, Richard Phillips.

The screenplay by Billy Ray ("The Hunger Games," 2012; "Fllghtplan," 2009) is based on Phillips' book, written with Stephan Talty, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea."

The MV Maersk Alabama was said to be the first American cargo ship hijacked in 200 years.

The film, "Captain Phillips," has a nice preface, showing Phillips (Tom Hanks) departing his Vermont home for his ocean voyage and saying goodbye to his wife (Catherine Keener). This creates empathy for the main character.

The film shows us the preparations for the cargo ship's departure, giving us a view of the huge operation that this commerce entails.

We are also introduced to the Somali village and the fishermen who serve the warlords who order them to commandeer a big ship. Their motive appears to be apolitical. "It is business," a pirate says.

The approaching pirates, the boarding of the freighter, the reaction of the crew and the taking of Phillips as hostage is shown in great detail in the action that takes place 145 miles off the coast of Somali.

We also see the response by the U.S. government, which dispatches U.S. Navy ships, helicopters and Navy SEALs. While we know the outcome, "Captain Phillips" is nonetheless gripping, moving and thought-provoking.

Director Greengrass ("United 93" and the "The Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy" movies) has director of photography Barry Ackroyd use a lot of hand-held camera work, with extreme close-ups of the actors and judicious editing by Christopher Rouse.

This, combined with the rolling ships at sea, gives not only a sense of immediacy, but unease and trepidation. The audience feels part of the action and dilemma.

The score by Henry Jackman builds on the inherent drama.

Tom Hanks disappears into the role. Voicing a slight New England accent and with a gray goatee, you never think that you're watching Hanks. You think you are seeing Phillips. Hanks gives an authoritative performance, yet an emotional one, as well. Hanks is assured an Oscar actor nomination.

The film, "Captain Phillips," would not be credible without very believable performances by the first-time actors portraying the pirates, especially Barkhad Abdi as Muse. Abdi deserves a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

There are a number of good supporting roles by the actors who play the U.S. military men. These scenes are very detailed and are not unlike those in "Zero Dark Thirty."

"Captain Phillips" has the effect of a great World War II movie. Of course, "Captain Phillips" isn't a war movie because the world is not at war.

Or is it?

"Captain Phillips," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13) for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use; Genre: Action, Adventure, Biography; Run time: 2 hrs. 14 min.: Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Captain Phillips" was filmed in Malta, Morocco, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Longcross Studios, Longcross, Surrey, England.

Box Office, Oct. 17: "Gravity" kept opening films down to earth as a three-peat at No. 1, with a still strong $31 million, $170.5 million, three weeks.

"Captain Phillips" continued to command No. 2, with a good $17.3 million, $53.3 million, edging out the new version of "Carrie," opening at No. 3, with $17 million;

4. "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2," $10.1 million, $93.1 million, four weeks; 5. "Escape Plan," $9.8 million, opening; 6. "Prisoners," $2 million, $57.2 million, five weeks; 7. "Enough Said," $1.8 million, $10.7 million, five weeks; 8. "The Fifth Estate," $1.7 million, opening; 9. "Runner Runner," $1.6 million, $17.5 million, three weeks; 10. "Insidious Chapter 2," $1.5 million, $80 million, six weeks;

Unreel, Oct. 25:

"The Counselor," R: An attorney gets involved in drug trafficking. Ridley Scott directs Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Rosie Perez in the crime thriller.

"Bad Grandpa," R: Irving Zisman is an 86-year-old grandfather traveling across the United States with his eight-year-old grandson, Billy. Johnny Knoxville stars as Irving in the comedy.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; and the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@tnonline.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes