Review: Captain Phillips

For years now, there have been an enormous amount of attempts from Somali pirates looking to overtake foreign ships from all over the world who cross the waters that they see as their own. With guns, aggression and the hunger for a large financial payout, the schemes of these bands of buccaneers usually entail a strategy that they hope will net them a large ransom from the captives or the countries that employ them. Other time, some of these calculated attacks have succeeded, some have failed and some have ended with lives being lost in brutal fashion on water or on land. As Americans, the one that we’ve heard about the most involved Captain Phillips of the “Maersk Alabama.”

His run in with a quartet of Somali pirates occurred in April of 2009 when the ship under his command found itself under siege while attempting to cross the coast of Somalia to its target destination of Mombasa, Kenya. According to some, a safer route was available for the crew and the cargo ship they were aboard, but Captain Richard Phillips decided that this was the approach that he and his team of twenty men were going to take. Besides, they had the training concerning what to do in a situation if they found themselves under attack by a group of ship raiders looking to take them hostage. With all the knowledge that was given to them beforehand, nothing could have prepared them for the real thing as much as experience can.

After a while, the Massachusetts born captain who now resides in Vermont, probably wishes that he would have taken the road wish a safer journey. That’s because the same types of Somali pirates that anyone would have wanted to avoid end up being hot on the trail of his cargo ship. This ravenous throng of pirates are relentless due to their insatiable appetite to prove themselves and help improve their quality of life back home. There aren’t a bunch of opportunities in Somalia, and they figure they have to take what they can get as far as work and hope is concerned. With that being the set up for the ride of terror that Captain Phillips will have to endure, you can see that it’s a battle of desperation from both sides. One side wants to live, while the other side wants to discover life in any way possible.

In order for Phillips and his crew to save themselves from the group of four young men with bad intentions in mind, they needed to rely on ingenuity and improvisation once all of the protocol procedures are tossed out the window and rendered useless once the pirates got on board their ship. Instead of leaning on what they were taught to do, they’re going to have to play the game in a way that will bring them home safely. That’s the goal, but it won’t be that simple when you have the group of unhinged, gun toting captors as your main adversaries. With that in mind, the weaponless prisoners need someone to take the lead and guide them out of harms’ way. They find that of course, in Captain Phillips, the man who’s supposed to be leading them anyway.

According to what I’ve read about the book that Captain Phillips is based on, a good portion of the story that we’re told is a work of fiction. Some of the crew members who were aboard the “Maersk Alabama” say that the real Captain Phillips isn’t exactly the hero that he claims to be and put them in the center of trouble in the first place. That’s essentially why I included the second paragraph in this review. It wasn’t as prominently featured in the film as it probably should have been. I wasn’t on the boat myself, so I can’t truly say who is right or wrong in this instance, but it’s clear that things may get a bit murky when the one telling the story makes himself the hero in his own book recounting the adventure.

With this being the way it is, I’ll say that Captain Phillips is a solid piece of fiction at the very least that’s certainly predicated on actual events that have to be a scary event for anyone who is unfortunate to be placed in such a dire situation. From what he has to work with, I feel that Paul Greengrass does a good job of making the film based on A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea a feature that contains plenty of positive qualities to legitimately hold your attention throughout its duration. When you look at the fact that it’s based on actual events that plenty of us already know about, that can be perceived as quite the accomplishment.

One thing that assists in allowing Captain Phillips to keep the attention of the viewer is the inclusion of depth to the Somali pirates. The film makes sure to at least attempt to humanize them just as much as if not more than Phillips and his crew. Do to the circumstances that they find themselves in, you don’t have to do much to humanize Phillips and his crew, but I also felt that creating the pirates the way they do makes the movie itself more meaningful and realistic. The truth is, the guys who are in these kinds of vastly underdeveloped countries don’t have much in terms of opportunities to progress in their lives, and some of them are willing to go overboard in order to do so.

Without this being included in Captain Phillips, I think we’re talking about a decent film with not much reason to see the movie. It’s an added piece to the story that takes the movie to another level. Without that being included, there wouldn’t be enough for me to recommend seeing this. Not because it’s bad, but because the story is far to predictable since just everyone knows how it already ends. It helps the film as a whole, because it gives us more to concentrate on outside of what we already know. Greengrass also appears to want you to care about one of the pirates as well. I won’t give anything away, but it makes you focus on the subplots a bit more while everything else is going on. That’s always a good thing if it’s done properly.

One of the things in Captain Phillips that caught me off guard a bit is the lack of acting by Tom Hanks. As an actor who’s shown what he can do in film, we all know that Hanks has the goods to put on a great performance. In Captain Phillips however, his strong acting abilities aren’t really put to good use. While starring in the lead role, he doesn’t have to do much for the most part when it comes to displaying emotion or loads of personality. His character is fairly basic throughout and he frankly doesn’t need to do much in most instances. Toward the end, we do get to see Hanks do more from an emotional perspective, but I do wish he would have had more than the few scenes to do it in. I know it wasn’t needed, but it’s Tom Hanks. Finding more for him to do is never a bad thing.

Overall, I think this film succeeds due to the humanization of the Somali pirates played by Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali, and the steady hand of Paul Greengrass as the director. If it wasn’t for those features, the movie wouldn’t have been worthy of a big screen release in my opinion. I don’t know if this story is a story worth telling due to the fact that there have been and are still loads of attempted take overs that still happen at sea by Somali pirates that put the lives of plenty of people in danger. Is there anything in this story that separates it from any of those other situations aside from the fact that the crew is American?

I don’t know. The story isn’t unique enough or big enough in my opinion to turn these events into a full feature film. Although I think it’s a good flick that I might watch again one day, I can’t say that it’s something that needed to be told or put out for mass consumption. When comparing it other films based on true stories or actual events, Captain Phillips doesn’t have a whole lot to say. And when you point out the fact that what’s been laid out for us may have been embellished to make Captain Richard Phillips look better according to at least some of his former crew members, it makes me wonder if this should have been out at all. Then again, if you just base it off of what it is and look at it as somewhat of a work of fiction, Captain Phillips is good, but I still feel a little weird about the whole thing.

Score: 3/5

Rating: R

Director: Paul Greengrass


Tom Hanks

Catherine Keener

Barkhad Abdi

Barkhad Abdirahman

Faysal Ahmed

Mahat M. Ali

Michael Chernus

David Warshofsky

Corey Johnson

Chris Mulkey

Yul Vasquez

Max Martini

Omar Berdouni

Mohamed Ali

Issak Farah Samatar

Film Length: 134 minutes

Release Date: October 11, 2013

Distributor: Columbia Pictures


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