‘Captain Phillips’ step in the right direction
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 00:10
“Captain Phillips” is a gripping true story that rises above other thrillers due to the humanity and moral complexity of its characters.
The movie is based on the 2009 hijacking of the merchant vessel Maersk Alabama by four Somali pirates.
The ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, was taken hostage which prompted the U.S. Navy to initiate a rescue operation.
The part of Phillips is played to magnificent effect by the one and only Tom Hanks, who reminds us again why he is one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures.
The role is quite demanding, both physically and emotionally, and Hanks matches the varying character pitches perfectly. He effectively exudes confidence while also keeping a twinkle of terror and vulnerability in his eye. His powerful performance in the film’s heartbreaking final moments brought me to tears.
Though Hanks is the protagonist, I’d argue that the real star of the film is newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates. His menacing demeanor disguises a wounded soul who’s only there as a victim of circumstances beyond his control. Muse is not motivated by greed, but by survival.
He’s much like Phillips in this way. They’re both just trying to do the job they have to do to get by.
Their shared humanity gives them an uneasy, unspoken alliance.
Each may be standing in the other’s way but there’s a mutual sense of respect and sympathy. The two understand that their collision course simply could not be averted.
The film dares to make us feel compassion for the antagonists where other films typically do not. They’re more than just cardboard cutouts to take pot shots at, we become attached to them. These are real people with real lives.
When the Navy finally comes in and begs for a peaceful resolution, you pray they can find one, even if in your gut you know it doesn’t exist.
In a routine Hollywood production, the end of this film would be a triumph; a celebration of the efficiency of the American military and American resolve.
In “Captain Phillips” it’s a tragedy; the unintended consequences of a global economy. There are no heroes or villains here, only victims.
Coming from Paul Greengrass, who directed “United 93” and the last two-thirds of the Bourne trilogy, it’s no surprise that the film features an almost overwhelming attention to detail.
In the beginning, the dedication to procedure and authenticity is a little off-putting; giving the film a sluggish pace, but his documentary-like approach is ultimately what grabs us and throws us into a seat on the ship with the captured crew.
This subtle way of building anticipation ensures that everyone who sees the film will be digging their nails into the nearest armrest, leg, wrist or helpless pet they can find.
Film is a monumentally powerful medium, and it’s always encouraging to see people like Greengrass — along with screenwriter Billy Ray — leverage their art for understanding.
“Captain Phillips” is the kind of movie that helps us to fathom the human condition, and see the world in a way that’s just not as visible without the aid of film.
If we as humans have to share a planet with one another, we should at least strive for perspective so that we can coexist as peacefully as possible.
I’m not sure if “Captain Phillips” will do anything to advance the human race in such a profound way, but it’s commendable that it even tries.
It does, however, have the potential to at least start a few conversations and that’s a step in the right direction.
“Captain Phillips” is a terrific film because it uses its entertainment value as a thriller to force the viewer to ask questions about the characters and themselves, and to reexamine how one feels about difficult topics like terrorism, globalization and — the greatest mystery of all — our fellow man.
It will hold you captive and won’t release you anytime soon.
4.5 out of 5