Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips is a stunning movie but not for the reasons you might think. It does have a great acting performance by Tom Hanks who plays the real life captain of the Maersk Alabama that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. It does have spectacular camera shots of this great hulking tanker which looks so enormous in port and then so tiny when it is adrift in the ocean. It does have a massive display of American power at sea when the warships show up and dwarf the tiny life boat which is being navigated by three Somali pirates holding one US captain captive. It does have a suspenseful chase scene as the Somali jerryrigged skiff chases down the ginormous cargo ship and is then boarded by four utterly fearless pirates. The director, Paul Greengrass, directed the last two Jason Bourne movies so he knows something about creating - on the edge of your seat - dramatic effects. But what separates this film from other Jason Bourne type action adventure films is the focus on the pirates. The pirate actors are Somalis who live in the United States now. This is their first acting performance. The actor who plays the Somali captain is already being talked up as a possible Academy Award nominee for best supporting role. The film takes us into the Somali village where the pirates live. At dawn the Somali warlords sweep into the village in their humvees brandishing their heavy weapons. They roust the men and boys out of bed and yell at them to get to work. Herded down to the seashore, the Somali fishermen jump into their water worn skiffs and head out to land the next big prize. They are fishing for a cargo ship (the fishing grounds are fished out by industrial sized fishing vessels) and hoping for a large insurance payment. The Somali captain tells Hank's character about a recent six million dollar payment for a Greek vessel they hijacked. Six million! Hank's character, Captain Phillips, is amazed. That's a lot of money, he says. We have bosses, his Somali counterpart replies. In such exchanges the Somali pirates are humanized. They are not terrorists as the Somali captain assures the cargo ship crew. We will not hurt you, they they say over and over and you begin to believe them. "We are just fishermen", they tell their captives. "Fishermen, who kidnap people, isn't there anything else you can do?" Captain Phillips puts the question to the Somali captain. "Maybe in America, maybe in America", is his answer. It is clear these Somali pirates don't have many options. The difference between their lives and those of their hostages is bigger than the relative sizes of the ships they sail.