CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (director: Paul Greengrass; screenwriters: based upon the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty/Billy Ray; cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd; editor: Christopher Rouse; music: Henry Jackman; cast: Tom Hanks (Capt. Richard Phillips), Barkhad Abdi (Muse), Barkhad Abdirahman (Bilal), Faysal Ahmed (Najee), Mahat M. Ali (Elmi), Michael Chernus (Shane Murphy), Corey Johnson (Ken Quinn), Max Martini (SEAL Commander), Chris Mulkey (John Cronan), Yul Vazquez (Capt. Frank Castellano), David Warshofsky (Mike Perry), Catherine Keener (Andrea Phillips); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Scott Rudin/Dana Brunetti/Michael De Luca; Sony Pictures; 2013-in English, with some Somali that goes with English subtitles)
“Tom Hanks, just the right nuanced actor for the role, delivers an Oscar worthy performance.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A nail-biting true story thriller of the newspaper headline grabbing 2009 piracy by four Somali pirates, kidnapping the Vermont residing “everyman” no-nonsense family man, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama. His ship left port at Oman and was heading to Mombasa, Kenya, and as history tells us it’s the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.
The film is superbly helmed with energy, intelligence and creative attention to detail in docudrama style by the talented Brit filmmaker Paul Greengrass(“Bourne Ultimatum”/”Bloody Sunday”/”Green Zone”). He bases the film upon the memoir “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. The taut screenplay is by Billy Ray. Tom Hanks, just the right nuanced actor for the role, delivers an Oscar worthy performance, with the mostly unknown cast chipping in with brilliant performances. Its accuracy, at least in making the captain into a hero, might be questioned due to a current law suit on the table by the crew, blaming their captain for disobeying maritime orders and navigating too close to pirate waters in order to save time for the shipping company while ignoring their safety. Whether the pic is accurate or not shouldn’t deter the viewer from experiencing an intense true-life action pic that has its pulse beating for a story that caught the public’s interest and its poignant observations of the connections between the Somali pirates and the American captain is well-worth digesting. The result is a better understanding of what the Somali piracy is all about than what I read in the newspapers at the time and showing once again how global everything in the world has become. Greengrass gives us a rich criminal procedural film detailing how the piracy worked in actuality and how only four pirates in a low-tech boat could overpower such a large crew on a high-tech ship, which according to company protocol could only use water hoses to repel the armed attackers. But the director’s just as much interested in showing us the untold factors (political, economic and social) behind the event as he tries to figure out what the hell this is all about and why it’s taking place now and who are the shadowy people doing it.
The bulk of the film, after the four heavily armed pirates, led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi, a Mogadishu émigré living in Minneapolis), Najee (Faysal Ahmed), Elmi (Mahat M. Ali) and the teenage Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman), commandeer the unarmed faster cargo vessel after chasing it down in their skiff, some 145 miles off the Somali coast, centers around the tenuous relationship formed between the American captain and the Somali captain. The action gets heavier after the pirates are intimidating while searching for the crew hiding from them below in the engine room and then in disgust when unable to take the boat instead take Phillips as a hostage on his ship’s high-tech lifeboat. He’s with them for five days as they head to Somali hoping to get big money in ransom. Meanwhile the Navy tracks them down and on orders from the WH, the covered lifeboat is not to reach Somali and the captain’s release will have to be negotiated at sea or else a rescue attempt will be on the spot by the Navy SEALS. After his rescue at sea, Phillips is in shock and suffers from post-traumatic effects.
The film sharply points out that both captains are under duress and are not on their own but have bosses to answer to. Muse is a poor fisherman who works for a ruthless greedy warlord, while Phillips tells his captor you’re not the only one with a boss: “We all have bosses.” The captain hints that he has obligations to carry out certain duties that go with his job and that he’s under pressure to conform and act the way an American captain is expected to act or else he also won’t be able to go back home with honor.
REVIEWED ON 10/11/2013 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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