Movie Review: Captain Phillips

captain_phillips_ver2You know the real problem with “true story” movies? The true part so often gets in the way with the story part. But I’ll get to that later.

The film is the story of the Maersk Alabama container ship that was attacked by Somali pirates in April of 2009. The world was watching as the 4 pirates found themselves face to face with the United States Navy and the famed Seal Team 6.

For its part, the movie is well scripted and paced. Tom Hanks stumbles a bit out of the gate with a Yankee accent. It’s a bit off but this only lasts about 10 minutes. After Hanks gets on the ship he seems to abandon that whole experience and the movie is better for that decision. Hanks delivers an incredible performance – as usual. There is no overacting as can be the case in action movies.

Hanks scenes at the end of the film show the depth of his range. He somehow manages to act like he is in shock without overselling it. There is a subtlety in his work that takes center stage in the last act of the film.

It may be one of the more difficult tasks of a director to tell a story that pretty much everybody knows how it ends. Yet Paul Greengrass – of the Bourne series – does this extremely well. The film maintains its intensity and pace, never once dragging the inevitable out for a more dramatic scene. Greengrass once again uses his signature handheld camera and up close angles to tell the story. He puts you IN the story, not just an observer.

It’s a good action film with a superior performance from Hanks and Barkhad Abdi who played the Somalian pirate Abduwali Muse.

[Another spoiler alert]
The elephant in the room concerning this movie is does one sovereign nation have the right to carry out justice against citizens of another. American audiences applauded wildly at the actions of the US Navy and Seal Team Six. Hanks’ Phillips says in the movie ‘They are never paying you anything. You are never getting to Somalia.’ The meaning was clear – the US was sending a message. The Navy executed 3 pirates, brought back the 4th to the US to stand trial (and was convicted, sentenced to 33 years).

In 1994, a teenager named Michael Fay confessed to vandalizing and stealing road signs in Singapore. The punishment – a fine, 4 months jail, and 6 strokes on the bare buttocks with a bamboo cane. Most public opinion polls in the US at the time supported the punishment. That didn’t stop the parents and then President Bill Clinton from getting involved and leaning on the Singapore government to not cane the boy due to that being an excessive punishment for the crime. Net result – instead of 6 lashes, he got 4.

It’s not exactly the same comparison – international laws against piracy exist, incident was in international waters – but it’s an interesting question to explore.

Now as far as how accurate it is to real life?

It MOSTLY gets it right but a couple of details that jump out as important to me were this: Phillips was given multiple emails before he left port to steer his ship 600+ miles offshore where the bulk of the international shipping vessels were traveling. He did not. He was 240 miles off the coast of Somalia, alone when the attacks happened. Phillips says that in that region of the world, it doesn’t matter how far off the coast you are, there is always a danger. Many others disagree with this assessment.

There were other discrepancies. There was no glass on the floor or Phillips remotely feeling close to his kidnappers in the real story. Phillips was captured as a result of a botched prisoner exchange. Many reports from the crew cite the 1st Mate as the real hero who shut down power to the boat and got the crew hidden in the engine room. The crew was locked in the 120 degree room for 12 hours. The drama on the lifeboat took place over the course of 5 days.

I’ll let you decide whether or not this ‘ruins’ the movie for you. It didn’t for me. It’s a good action flick with great acting. It will keep you entertained and interested through the whole film.


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