Captain Phillips (2013) or What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Disclaimer: This review will only be about the film Captain Phillips and not whether there is any historical truth in the actual story itself.

The Pitch:     True story of a Captain who’s ship is boarded by Somali Pirates but not the good pirates with hooks for hands.


—— The Review


    Captain Richard Phillips, played by Tom Hanks (The Money Pit, 1986) assumes command of a container ship leaving the country of Oman to dock in the country of Mombasa. Their trip takes them through the pirate infested waters of Somalia where the MV Maersk Alabama is boarded by a group of Somali’s with their own agenda. 

    Based on the true story co-written the real Captain Phillips so unless you think that Captain Phillips tweeted the play-by-play of the story while he was involved in this altercation you should be well aware that he lived. But! that does not mean that you are not taken on a wild adventure of modern day piratism that involves boat chases, kidnapping, extortion and good old fashioned heart. 

    Director Paul Greengrass (TV’s Crime Story, 1995) guides us through a tight 134 minutes that had my attention from the early scenes of Phillips and his wife, played by the always welcome Catherine Keener (8MM, 1999) to the climactic conclusion aboard a life boat amid a roiling sea. Greengrass has a wonderful eye for finding the right angle for a scene that brings about the urgency and excitement without boring you with fast cuts that greener directors might use when there is no faith in the story. His direction of Hanks and the Somali pirates is subtle yet it felt as if the cast were given the freedom to inhabit their roles to a point of wondering where the actor ends and the character begins.

    As an English speaking Canadian I am attuned to the light nuances and tones of voice that can be hidden in dialogue adding weight or irony. It is something anyone of any language will pick up along the way but, listening to an actor speaking a foreign language I am never quite sure whether they are speaking with the correct emphasis on the word or if their tone of voice is appropriate for the statement they are making so I cant speak to the realism of the native Somali actors but what I can tell you is that you can always see it in their eyes. 

   No matter what language someone is speaking their eyes will tell you everything and these newcomers, especially Muse- the lead Pirate, played by newcomer Barhad Abdi- never loses sight of his goal. It was a sheer treat to watch him work even when he was not the centre of the scene. I take great delight in knowing now that I have seen the film and followed the plot I can watch it again to revel in Barhad’s presence. Breathtaking.

    What differentiates Captain Phillips the film from other films of this genre is the inclusion of a back story for our would-be antagonists. We are given an opportunity to see what life is like at the Somali’s camps that litter their beaches. You learn why Muse and his cohorts are desperate to fulfill this mission no matter what it takes. And with that information in hand you are placed in a difficult situation: Who do I root for?

    The movie is called Captain Phillips but it could easily have been called Muse. The story would be about an impoverished man who is forced by gunpoint to hijack a container ship else an offscreen malevolent force known only as Garaad will come to collect. Both fates of Captain Phillips the man and Muse the man are linked in a struggle to survive and both have their reasons to fight. Both built on honour and through that honour a connection is made beyond their own futures.

   Tom Hanks does an able job here. Hanks is a Movie Star in the same column as Carey Grant is a Movie Star. When you see a Tom Hanks movie you are seeing Tom Hanks play Tom Hanks with slight affectations to his speech or nuances to his character. He has a few exceptions to the rule, of course, Forrest Gump is one, Ladykillers is another, but we the audience don’t show up to see him take on a persona we continuously come back for Him because he Is a Movie Star and he consistently pulls out great performances. 

    His Captain Phillips is no exception. The Phillips at home with his wife; soft, calm is a polar opposite to Phillips in command; Barking orders, making demands. He is in charge and when he calls a random emergency Pirate drill because, “…it was a matter of when, not if.” you believe him.

    Even up until the final confrontation in that fated lifeboat you will find yourself hoping that the story can end well for both stars of Captain Phillips. What a thrill this film was right up to the moment the tears form in your chaffed eyes; tears that will come from nowhere but they, indeed will arrive and you will find relief in them as the principals in this true-life tale must have felt. An epic tale that transports you across forty foot waves and through cultures half-way around the world, you will be left in your seat well after the credits role and the lights fade up pondering your place in the world.


—— The Denouement


    Captain Phillips is a story of bravery and commitment. A story of two men who are honest in virtue that will not give up what the other wants yet, desperately wants to. A moving piece of film hidden inside a spirited action-drama

    Worth seeing in the theatre. Worth watching twice. Highly Recommended.

    And when it ends go to a diner for a slice of cherry pie and discuss the high concept that: Everyone’s story is their own. That even the bad guys have a history that just might move you.


James C. The Cold Open-BC