Coming to this not having read up on the hijacking case this is based on, or really following Paul Greengrass's work outside of the Jason Bourne series, I was in for a interesting ride in regards to plot developments but also the film making style. The results are an effectively made, tightly wound thriller - but also a visually interesting feature. The look of the film is surprisingly colourful towards the start - perhaps intentionally so in contrast later events - with shots of the open sea and some interesting looks at the scale of the shipping operation; and as things get worse and events spiral out of control for both the pirates and the protagonist, it gets darker (visually and tonally) as the tension builds and the final resolution approaches.
A fairly balanced approach is taken towards introducing all the story elements here. While the pirates are hardly shown to be sympathetic they are at least drawn as average people with their motivations set up alongside a few early moments we share with Phillips at home discussing family matters. Soon after the Somalis fight amongst themselves as the freighter crew bicker about what their are signed up for, it's a short introduction but nicely done. It's also quick to set up the scale of what the pirates are up against, as a handful of young men make a decision to take on a massive ship which despite having slow moving rescue services and no weapons clearly has an advantage. This of course comes to a head as both groups clash with one another, and from here on in it's basically firing on all cylinders as each side tries to gain an the upper hand and control of the situation moves between them. The early pirate attacks and initial confrontations may be the more effective ones as the constant unease does become a little tiring later in, but each set piece is done well to keep things interesting.
If there was an issue I could bring up it would be that the efficient, documentary style is perhaps makes the events feel a little too distant at times. The two "captains" are the core of the film and provide the best acting while the other characters come across as more like typical stand ins or challenges to their authority rather than having anything more to do as people. That being said the performance from Tom Hanks in the third act is what brings to film to it's best and it really stops things from being too much like a well oiled machine that could have otherwise lacked humanity. It's clear that this type of plot could have been easily been cartoonish or jingoistic in the wrong hands which speaks a lot for those involved be it in front of the camera or behind the scenes.
So yes, basically this lives up to the title - James McAvoy gives a solid performance as drug addicted, sexually depraved and all round nasty piece of work DS Robertson, who plays games with his colleagues and supposed friends while trying to climb the promotions ladder. The material is all pretty good as his schemes grow and his mental condition deteriorates, but the way it's been put together seems messy with too many tonal shifts - even the soft focus camera work is at odds with the grim events that take place. The best black comedies gel the tragedy well and manage the tone properly, they often make you question if you should be laughing or not - but this is far too inconsistent and isn't put together in a way that prevents it from feeling episodic. There's a clear divide between the comic scenes and the dark and grotesque parts. Because of this there isn't enough impact when things really fall to pieces in the third act, despite the plot taking some interesting turns along with way. It does have it's moments but is certainly no Trainspotting (adapted from the same author's work) and I feel it could have been with stronger direction and editing.