Rating: Whatever your feelings are about this film, let me warn you if you are prone to sea sickness. If so, I’d save your popcorn bag after you finish it.
I know this is going to sound somewhat sacrilegious, but I was a bit disappointed with Captain Phillips. While it is full of the expected combination of tension and terror, I ended up feeling sorry for the Somali pirates.
When the Maersk Alabama was hijacked in 2009, it was the first American ship to be captured by pirates in over 200 years. The situation darkened quickly when the four Somali bandits kidnaped the American captain as they tried to escape in an enclosed Maersk escape vessel.
The film is at its best when it initially concentrates on the lives of the Somali pirates in their homeland. Living in destitution, a local mob recruits them to hold captured ships for ransom. You can fault them all you want for their illegal activity, but who can blame them for trying to elevate their standard of living where it was otherwise impossible to do so.
As most of you know, Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, a dedicated American seaman living in Vermont. He knows that his trip from Dubai to Nairobi, Kenya will flirt with danger, but that is the price you pay for doing your job.
Captain Phillips is a no-nonsense, by the book guy, and so is his opponent, Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates. Played marvelously by Barkhad Abdi, it is a performance that could very well land him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
As Muse and his comrades take over the Maersk, the last half of the film consistently loses strength as it devolves into an emotional duel between the two opposing leaders. Muse doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and simply seeks to collect a ransom so that he and his compatriots can partially share a minor portion.
There is a memorable moment on the escape boat where the captured Captain Phillips looks at Muse and says in words to the effect, “You don’t have to engage in kidnaping.” To which Muse soulfully responds, “Maybe not in America. Maybe not in America.”
When things go terribly wrong for Muse and his comrades, you feel their anxiety and fear. One of the four is a 14-year old injured boy, and you simply hope that he finds a way to live.
While I truly admire Director Paul Greengrass, he spends far more time focusing on the overwhelming power of the American military than he does the conditions in Somalia. Put another way, instead of killing pirates and bombing countries like Iraq, wouldn’t we have greater success by acting more like Mother Theresa as a nation that we do emulating Ghengis Kahn?
While it is giving nothing away to tell you that Muse is presently doing a 33-year federal prison sentence here in Terre Haute, Indiana, you can’t help but remember his wistful statement to Captain Phillips that he just wanted to move to America and buy a car in New York. Oddly, I hope there comes a day when he is able to do that.