Movie Review: Captain Phillips

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

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Captain Phillips is a thriller based on the 2009 hijacking of the US container ship MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. The movie is based on true events and is mainly focused on the relationship between Phillips (Tom Hanks) and Muse (Barkhad Abdi).

Captain Phillips will appeal to those who are interested in edge of your seat adaptions of real stories where the lives of the rich and poor intersect. The movie explores themes of globalisation, culture, economics, politics and power. The movie has a symbolic blend of authenticity, drama and broad audience appeal. Top of Form

The story develops in three sections: the association of the two worlds of Phillips and Muse where we witness the reality of modernity vs. poverty; the climactic capture of the ship and the ensuing power struggle between Phillips and Muse; then the nail-biting finale in a claustrophobic lifeboat where the Somali pirates hold Phillips hostage.

From the outset of the movie, we empathise with the lead characters that live in sharply contrasting settings. Phillips, a hard working family man with his scrubby beard and tired face, appears reluctant to go to work. Then there’s Muse, an existence of steely resolve, a man born by his harsh motherland, Somalia, one of many poor fishermen with little options for work where piracy becomes livelihood.

Phillips and Muse are destined to clash as the US container ship travels isolated through African waters making the ship the target of Somali pirates. We get to know Phillips and Muse up close and personal; we sympathise with their struggle and their will to survive.

It is the camera work that allows the viewer to experience the ultimate standoff between Phillips, Muse and their crews. The close shots of their faces create the sense of urgency in the situation, compared to the wide shots of the endless ocean, which give you a sense of the eternal experience of desperation.

At first, Phillips daringly guides his crew to outrun two pirate boats. There is a short-lived moment of relief before Muse returns and despite the ship’s fire hoses, Muse’s crew manages to attach a ladder to the side of the ship and climb on board. With no weapons, Phillips must protect the lives of his crew and he instructs them to cut the ship’s power and remain hidden until they hear the password, while he and a few officers remain on deck.

There is sharp detail and clarity that Phillips is an ordinary man who is out of his depth in this situation. He makes life and death decisions in unpredictable and dangerous circumstances. At this point you start to see and appreciate the heroism of Phillips. He becomes more dishevelled as the scenes become more gruelling.

Muse incessantly states “I am the captain now” and the hostility is palpable with the pirates armed and screaming “where is the crew?” Phillips offers Muse $30,000 from the safe to leave the boat, but Muse wants the big prize and insists on finding the crew. Muse ventures below deck where he’s wrestled and captured by the crew who try to negotiate an exchange with the pirates, Phillips for Muse.

Abdi has a thrilling screen presence, which earned him the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a supporting role in 2014 for his performance as Muse. He embodied the intense determination and tormented desperation of the Somali pirates.

The failed exchange results in Phillips being taken hostage by the pirates in a claustrophobic yellow capsule for a lifeboat. As the capsule bobs through the waves, it dawns on Muse that his radio crew has abandoned him when they claim they cannot pick up the pirates due to a breakdown of their ship. Muse and his crew must make it back to Somali land, but the true magnitude of their conditions dawns with arrival of the US Navy. The tumultuous twists will make you nervous as you watch Hanks sweat, shudder and shake in fear. Hanks proved once again he is one of the great actors, reminding me of his performance in Castaway.

The pseudo-documentary shooting style gave me a newfound appreciation for the directorial style of Paul Greengrass. It is through his camera techniques that the audience experiences the intensity and turbulence of the movie. He skilfully creates an electric tension, the sense of an escalating conflict, in the endless view of water around the ship.

By the finale, I was enthralled by the strange, reluctant respect that forms between Phillips and Muse, anguished and relieved by the outcome and exhausted by the traumatic ending. This movie is bound to make you reflect on the forces which motivated the Somalis to be pirates and to contemplate the impact of capitalism on societies. It allows the viewer to recognise the forces that drive people are larger than our own simple perceptions. This suspense thriller is an intelligent, mainstream cinema movie that will astonish you.

The film is directed by Paul Greengrass, from a screenplay by Billy Ray, based upon the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. It is worth noting that the adaption of the movie has been criticised for portraying Phillips as heroic when in reality crewmembers thought he was stupid and put their lives in unnecessary danger. Some of the crew are suing the company for damages.

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