Tom Hanks did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite basically being nominated for every single other acting award, for portraying Richard Phillips in Captain Phillips.
Anyway Hanks plays an actual man Richard Phillips who was the commander of a unarmed transport freighter going through dangerous pirate territory. The early scenes of the film rely very much on Hanks just being the average sort of man who is just doing his job. Hanks is definitely good in setting up Phillips as a likable enough guy and gives his personal moments the investment they need just so we know where he coming from. When he gets on the ship Hanks is again very good in simply fulfilling what the role should be. He runs his ship not as some great hero or even great captain, but Hanks shows the casual atmosphere of it all by playing the scenes like any average boss with a fairly unassuming but somewhat scolding personality toward his crew to keep them on task.
Captain Phillips suffered some controversy for its portrayal of the Richard Phillips as many of his crew members actually stated he made several foolish actions and was not the hero the film portrays him as. Well I would say that neither the film, nor Hanks really try to make him out to be to be an overly heroic figure either. In fact throughout the showdown with the pirates it can easily be said that the film shows the crew doing most of the work to stop the pirates, and the film does show Phillips making some dumb decisions during the course. Also even though Tom Hanks, who has played several hero types in his time, does not really try to to play Phillips as a hero here, giving a more interesting approach by just reflecting the actions of a fairly average man in such a situation.
Once the pirates board Hanks is very effective in showing a man whose is trying to do his best to what he can to halt the pirates, while trying to keep the situation as calm as possible. Before the pirates come on Hanks is very good at simply showing the emotions as they come and bringing the intensity of the scene alive as he should. When the pirates do board Hanks is strong in the scene as he tries to keep his men together in his final announcement to them. Hanks doesn't play the scene as if he is the greatest commander of men, but honestly as a man trying to do his best to urge his crew and keep them together. The strongest moments of Hanks's performance though begin once he gets to start sharing scenes with Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leader Muse.
He and Abdi are both great together as they play off each other with a perfect precision as they basically have showdown through words as Muse tries to takeover the ship but finds it is harder than it appears. Hanks is very good in firstly always giving the reaction of a man who thinks he could die at any minute as we see the desperation and nervousness within him even if never completely overwhelms him. Hanks combines this well though with Phillips's trying to pull his best Lance Henriksen in Dog Day Afternoon by trying to plant the seeds of doubts in the Pirates while trying to send information to the crew to make it so they can botch the pirates plans. Hanks is good in playing the act that Phillips actually plays which is that of the hapless dope who just seems to be accidentally messing the pirates up.
Hanks handles these scenes well by playing them shrewdly but not too shrewdly frankly. Hanks does not go about making Phillips a genius or an impeccable leader though but rather a guy who has thought of a few tricks to throw the pirates off. Hanks always keeps the pressure on his exchanges of looks between him are Abdi is great as Abdi shows that Muse does know that Phillips is up to something, but Hanks keeps Phillips looking at least slightly hapless, as just a guy who wants the pirates to leave with even the money from the ship's safe for their benefit. This continues once Phillips is captured by Muse and the other three pirates on the life boat as they go along toward Somalia but are quickly hounded by the navy which spells doom for the plans of the pirates.
Hanks adjusts his performance appropriately here as he does slowly build the fear in Phillips himself, even he does keep up his antics to mess with pirates, although Hanks brings just the right sympathy with his tone. Hanks carefully never goes too far with this as he properly still shows that Phillips is definitely exhibiting caution and rather effectively plays it as that Phillips is just thinking about his own safety as anyone would at that point. Inside the life boat I will say it is Abdi who really does steal the show as his becomes such an unforgettably portrait of a desperate man who just won't give up, but Hanks is never far behind keeping with him along the way. Hanks actually makes the right move here to not try to overwhelm Abdi's performance, but rather kinda like Rod Steiger in On the Waterfront, he amplifies the more emotionally volatile performance through his quieter work.
Of course at the end of the film there is the scene which most everyone talks about when praising Hanks's performance which what happens to Phillips after he is saved in a bloody rescue. It is a very performance heavy scene so to speak as Hanks shows Phillips completely in shock after the events on the lifeboat. It's technically ACTING at its most but all I can say is Hanks absolutely nails it without question. You do feel that Phillips is a man in shock in the scene and Hanks is quite powerful by simply giving fully into the scene. He drops anything else about Phillips and completely is in the portrayal of the shock and certainly creates an amazing and most memorable end to his great depiction of Captain Richard Phillips.