Captain Phillips movie review: Tom Hanks versus Somali pirates

Somali pirates from Captain Phillips movie

Somali pirates from Captain Phillips movie

Captain Phillips starts out terrific, mainly because the director immediately brings you into the world of piracy and you feel the tension mount, as Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) must quickly rally his crew to avoid capture from Somali pirates.  But this is only the first attempt.

The real-life story of Captain Richard Phillips was widely reported back in 2009. I vaguely remember it myself but frankly wasn’t that interested in the story at the time. Matter of fact, the story of Somali pirates capturing a freighter filled with food and clothing just didn’t grab me. Yes, it does make for effective drama on the high seas but I wasn’t captivated by it.

The film follows the plight of Captain Phillips as he desperately fights to protect his crew from invading Somali pirates. Now in the first twenty minutes alone we get a taste of just how precarious a situation Phillips is in because he reads a warning sent over email about the presence of pirates in his vicinity. Captain Phillips insists the crew practice security drills in the vein hope that if indeed his freighter is boarded the crew will successfully defend itself. The first sequence is surprisingly riveting. The Somali pirates are first spotted on radar and Philips orders the ship to increase its speed to avoid capture. The freighter does successfully outrun the pirates. But pirates don’t give up easily. And on the second attempt, the pirates are successful at boarding the freighter.

Somali actors make for excellent pirates

The acting by the Somali pirates is all around excellent.  Led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the pirates are a ragtag of poor but fearless Somali natives who care nothing but to capture their next freighter and come away with a huge haul. When the pirates first board, they are disorganized. The crew remains hidden down in the engine room and have turned off the ship’s power. Phillips offers the pirates money, a lifeboat to get away, and even suggests first aid for one of the pirates who has injured himself. But Muse and his men get greedy. And instead of accepting what cash exists on board, they demand millions and expect to get it.

The pirates soon realize they are ill prepared to take control of the freighter and through a series of mishaps end up nearly losing their leader, Muse. The pirates are successful, however, at capturing Captain Phillips and taking him hostage. They leave the freighter on a specially designed boat. Throughout, Phillips does his best to distract the pirates, offering first aid, and then turning the pirates against one another. The Navy gets word of Captain Phillips capture and proceeds to rescue him. Once the pirates learn of the Navy’s involvement, they are quick to use Phillips to extract millions in ransom money. The Navy has other ideas and next thing you know Navy SEALs parade out of the sky and we know that this story has only one ending.

Swimming in salt water with your eyes open

The film attempts to build on the tension of the SEALs negotiation with the pirates for Captain Phillips’ life. What I didn’t like was the surprise attempt by Captain Phillips to escape the lifeboat by actually pushing one of the pirates into the ocean and he himself jumping into the water hoping to be rescued. How many times have we seen movies where the actors jump into salt water and open their eyes to see where they are going?  Why you don’t try it sometime and let me know how well you see in saltwater and how comfortable it is on your eyes? I never believed for a second that Captain Phillips would have done something as stupid as trying to escape the lifeboat, especially when Navy ships had surrounded the lifeboat and there was no way out for the pirates.  All Captain Phillips had to do was just sit tight.

The final ending scene we see Captain Phillips being taken to get medical treatment. He’s in a state of shock. This is probably the best acting of Hanks throughout the film. He’s listening to the nurse as she tersely asks him if he’s OK and where he might be hurting. The camera stays close on Hanks. Captain Phillips asks if his family was of his situation. Yes, responds the nurse. Hanks lies down on a table and our film fades out.

Drama doesn’t escalate like it should

Overall, a good film but there was more suspense in the first 20 minutes when the pirates made their first attempt at boarding the freighter then during the last 20 minutes when we know that there is no way out for them and they will most certainly die or be captured by the Navy.  Was Tom Hanks a hero? The movie sure paints him out to be. But this CNN interview with the real-life Captain Phillips describes a different story entirely. Just goes to show you Hollywood loves to spin a story any way they can to sell it to the public.

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