Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips (2013)

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Things took a turn for the worst when they found out this man had made "Big".
Things took a turn for the worst when they found out this man had made “Big”.

Twitter Plot Summary: Somali pirates board a US freighter

Genre: Action/Adventure/Biography/Crime/Drama/Thriller

Director: Paul Greengrass

Key Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M Ali, Michael Chernus, Catherine Keener, David Warshofsky, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, Max Martini, Omar Berdouni

Five Point Summary:

1. Tom Hanks: Beard man.
2. Turning on your hoses to deter pirates. Novel idea, seems to work…
3. There’s only four of them?
4. And now we play the waiting game…
5. Zero Dark Thirty: The Prequel, it seems.

In April 2009 freight ship the Maersk Alabama was boarded by Somali pirates in an attempted hijacking. After their plans to steer the ship back to Somalia failed, they kidnapped the captain and made way for Somalia. The US Navy then stepped in to try and resolve the situation and recover Captain Phillips before the lifeboat reached the coast. And to say any more than that will likely spoil it for anybody who isn’t aware of what happened, so I’ll try not to go any further with regards to the plot.

Tom Hanks brings his A-game to his portrayal of the titular Captain Phillips, but he’s given a good run for his money from newcomer Barkhad Abdi as lead hijacker Muse. His gaunt appearance bears a stark contrast with the larger frames of the American crew. That’s not me saying the Americans are overweight, let’s be clear on that. I’m just of the opinion that the size difference between the two groups is worthy of mention as it indicates the disparate lifestyles of the rich Western world and the struggle to survive in Somalia. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that’s a common theme that unites both countries. It’s also an interesting about-face in that the Americans, usually portrayed as being gung-ho and pro-gun, are the ones that don’t have any means of defending themselves. Well, until the Navy turn up, of course.

The first half of the film is relatively tense, but this only builds up when Phillips is able to get the hijackers off his freight ship and into a lifeboat. Despite the fact that much of the story takes place inside this tiny encased lifeboat, and despite the lifeboat being surrounded by much larger US Navy vessels, it still remains incredibly tense stuff throughout. There is infighting amongst the Somali pirates, although unfortunately they’re not given sufficient depth to be anything more than ciphers. Muse gets the most characterisation but this comes out of his interactions with Tom Hanks. The remaining three can be described as The Young One, The Angry One, and The Technically-Minded One. There’s little more to them than that and the fact they’re pirates. In fairness, the crew of the Maersk Alabama don’t get much in the way of characterisation either – Tom Hanks is a bit of a prude when it comes to looking after the ship and the crew and he has a family which gives him a reason to live, of course. The rest of them? First Mate, Chief Engineer, etc. That’s the extent to their lives, and other than the brief possibility of a mutiny against Phillips, where being a “union man”  is mentioned, there’s little to distinguish them.

"Yes, I'm fine, but it really does stink in here."
“Yes, I’m fine, but it really does stink in here.”

There’s apparently a theme about the effects of globalisation, but in reality that’s not given much room to breathe. There are quieter moments where this is discussed, as is the necessity for Somali fisherman to become hijackers, but the focus as far as I was concerned is solely on the action and the tension of a stand-off between, essentially, David and Goliath, albeit with David holding a hostage and Goliath not being the bad guy. By the final third the tension levels have been scaled up to 11 and you’re not entirely sure how things are going to pan out, even if you know the details of the actual events. It’s a testament to Paul Greengrass and his cast that this level of uncertainty is still present, and I at least remained engrossed in the story from start to finish. It’s also of interest that the same Navy Seal team that were involved in this situation would later go on to assault Osama Bin Laden’s compound, so comparisons between this film and Zero Dark Thirty earlier this year are going to be apparent. That’s no bad thing though, they share a lot of the same DNA and I really enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty. The only major pitfall for Captain Phillips is that it prioritises dramatic tension over character. If you can forgive that one flaw then Captain Phillips is worth your time.

Favourite scene: Trying to ward off the attack with hoses and flare guns.

Quote: “They’re not here to fish.”

Silly Moment:  Spending half the film in a tiny boat being chased by the US Navy.

Score: 4/5

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