Captain Phillips – 2013
This was a good movie, but one that only needs to be watched once. It is a historical drama that chronicled the harrowing experience of merchant mariner, Captain Richard Phillips, who was the Captain of the Maersk Alabama, a container ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. It had some good drama which, from what I have read, was fairly true to history. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Phillips’ first mate, Shane Murphy, said that he was satisfied with how the movie portrayed both Phillips and himself, and stated that he was only disappointed that the film didn’t show footage of the crews’ families at home or the president’s comments on the hijacking.
Tom Hanks is one of those actors who can seem to do no wrong. Not only is he a master of his craft, turning in one memorable performance after another, but I hear that he is just a super-nice guy. He always seems to throw his heart and soul into his acting, delivering real emotion and honest gravitas. I have never seen him in a film in which I wasn’t thoroughly entertained. Here, of course, he played the title role of Captain Phillips. He knows his shipping rout takes him through pirate infested waters, and he tries to be as prepared as he can be.
But the pirates are desperate men driven by fear, machismo, and greed. They are young men who work for an African warlord who forces them at gunpoint to their piratical endeavors. The main pirate is Abduwali Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi. With him are Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali, as Muse’s fellow criminals, Adan Bilal, Nour Najee, and Walid Elmi. When the pirates first attack the ship, Phillips uses trickery to turn them back. But when a group of four pirates take it upon themselves to return for a second attempt, they are successful. They board the ship armed with guns. The scene when they threaten the lives of Phillips and his helmsman, Mike Perry, played by Corey Johnson, is terribly nerve-wracking.
Phillips’ first mate, Shane Murphey, played by Michael Chemus, and his Chief Engineer, played by David Warshofsky, were able to subdue two of the four armed men. They worked out a deal in which the pirates would go free along with the thirty thousand dollars in the ship’s safe. The defeated pirates agreed and were ready to leave in a lifeboat, but things went from bad to worse when the pirates decided to take Phillips with them as a hostage, demanding a $10 million ransom.
After that, the U.S. Military got involved. The Navy Seals were mobilized to get Phillips back unharmed. In my head, I knew that at that point, the four uneducated schmucks from Somali were screwed. You don’t mess with the Seals. After a long and harrowing chase fraught with failed negotiations and an escape attempt, the Seals arrived and ended the situation… quickly. Muse is the only one of the four to survive. The rest were all shot simultaneously by Seal snipers. Hank’s reaction in this scene was very emotional, making me feel his relief with him.
The film’s director, Paul Greengrass, did a fantastic job of building the tension slowly until the climax had me on the edge of my seat. And then, when Phillips is finally rescued, Hanks was really given a chance to shine. The traumatized Captain is in shock and nearly incoherent. Then the relieved tears began, and I found that my own eyes were no longer dry. If I had any real complaint about the film, it has to do with a trend in filmmaking that is so common nowadays, but one that I rarely like. The entire movie was filmed with a hand-held camera, giving the movie a more real and documentary-like feel. It also has the effect of making the action feel more serious. But for me, the constant unsteady motion is just annoying. It can even give me an upset stomach. I understand that they are trying to put the viewer in the middle of the action, but it was just a little too much for me.
Now, although the story was very historically accurate, there was one aspect of reality which the film got pretty wrong. The fact of the matter is that Captain Phillips was not as much of a hero as the movie depicts. Apparently, a few members of his crew said that Phillips ignored safety in order to make money by delivering the cargo faster. More than half the crew of the Maersk Alabama filed lawsuits against him, claiming that he sailed too close to the Somali coastline, despite warnings of pirate activity in the area. But the film actually did address the crew dissatisfaction with the dangers of the job. They said they didn’t sign up for dealing with pirates. Phillips’ response was that they knew what they were getting themselves into, and if they didn’t like the danger, they were welcome to disembark at the next port.
And as a last thought, I have to mention that Barkhad Abdi, the leader of the pirates, was widely recognized by critics as an outstanding actor. But I disagree. It isn’t that the actor did a bad job, but that the role itself wasn’t worth a Best Supporting Actor nomination. I didn’t see how the role was any more dramatic or demanding than those of his fellow pirates. But hey, what do I know?