“Captain Phillips”: Hanks Command(eer)s the Screen in Nautical Thriller


Remember when Somali pirates were in the news? Me too. But, what seems to slip our collective memory is why they were in the news. Paul Greengrass has decided to jolt our memory in his latest, highly-publicized release, Captain Phillips (2013) starring Tom Hanks,  depicting the daring rescue of Captain Richard Phillips in April 2009.

The plot is simple, yet thrilling. Set off the coast of Somalia during a period of heightened piracy, Captain Phillips recounts the story of an American cargo ship (MV Maersk Alabama) sailing from Oman to Kenya. Not too long after the ship sails into waters off the coast of Somalia, the ship is approached by two skiffs carrying armed pirates. The crew is unarmed, the ship is boarded, Phillips is kidnapped and turmoil unfolds.

A sense of sympathy towards the pirates presents itself as the movie progresses and we realize that, even though they hold the crew at gunpoint for ransom, this wasn’t their choice. Although their actions may not be forgiven, they are understood. This wasn’t an act of greed or random violence, but one resulting from desperation. Survival of the fittest for those who could procure the cash. In their minds, they had two choices: steal from the ships that travel along the African trade routes or starve on the sandy shores of Somalia.

Muse, the English-speaking pirate (therefore, the leader) is portrayed wonderfully by Barkhad Abdi. He manages to capture the essence of what I just stated above perfectly. The whole time it’s obvious that he (Muse) is second-guessing his choice to take Phillips hostage, but has gone too deep to change his mind. Meanwhile, his partners lay in the background, challenging his command at times (i.e. allowing Phillips more water or speech), but never so much that he loses control. In the end, it’s him who controls the group and who calls the shots, even if he feels uncomfortable doing so.

Tom Hanks, as Captain Richard Phillips, doesn’t disappoint. His main role as captain is to ensure the safety of his ship, his crew and his cargo. Barring the choice to sail a little too close to the Somali coastline, and perhaps avoid the situation altogether, Phillips (Hanks) manages to fulfill his role as the captain. He’s demeanour is calm, cool, and collected, even under the most stressful of situations. This, in the end, is what saves his life (along with the expertise of the US Navy SEALs). Hanks’ paints Philips as a wise, emotionally strong man. A manly man’s man, man. It seemed a little blown up from what the story was based on. But, one must remember that this is Hollywood and “Based on a True Story” is used liberally.

The film runs for just over two hours (134 mins). With a large chunk of the footage being set inside the lifeboat, some may find this to be quite a long film. But, the suspense is well-maintained throughout the entirety of the longer scenes to keep the viewers attention peaked at all times. It all serves a purpose as a long, calculated buildup towards the climax.

This nautical thriller recounts Phillips’ tale with cinematic magic. His story has popped out of the news and into theatres in only four short years, which gives the film a contemporary edge for viewers. Not only are the events fresh in our mind, but now they are portrayed for all to see from the protagonist’s point of view. This movie was worth the hype just for Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips. I see this film ringing in at least little golden man in March.

Thomas Creery

Thomas Creery

I strive for strange, roll in weird, and study the eccentric. Keep on asking questions and you’re bound to find an answer; even though, it may not be the right one...for now. Favorite directors include: David Lynch, P.T. Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino.