“Captain Phillips” is based off Captain Richard Phillips’s accounts from his book, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea.”
I was skeptic when I came to see this film.
Hollywood has always had a difficult time portraying anyone of foreign descent as anything but the antagonist. They’re seen as the opposing force – the villians who never have their backstories portrayed and are instead resigned to an agenda of evil for no discernible reason.
But “Captain Phillips” surprised me and squashed my doubts: The second half of the movie is dedicated to displaying Phillips’s understanding of the humanity of the Somali pirates that hijacked his ship, the MV Maersk Alabama, in 2009.
These weren’t monsters that attack ships and plunder them. These were four children, none of them over the age of 18.
The film switches up and displays the reasons why the young pirates do what they do, while they wake up to the sounds of trucks coming to their village. Older men carrying automatic weapons yell out that it is time to go to work – that is, it’s time to go looking for ships to hijack. Young boys come out of their homes and form groups outside, yelling out and raising their hands to be chosen, as if they were at gym class in high school playing dodgeball.
Those chosen need to be the biggest and strongest. They need to know how to steer a small boat not made for deep oceans. Those who aren’t associated with the village are pulled out of the group to not be a part of the job.
It is survival of the fittest. To be chosen is to go on a suicide mission, surviving just until another ship is required to be robbed.
During the main action of the film, Captain Phillips is held hostage in a lifeboat with the four teenage pirates. Claustrophobic and tense, as a gun is nearly always at the helm of the captain’s temple, a mixture of fear and adrenaline dictates his movement and judgment.
Phillips is afraid but begins to lose fear as he sees who the pirates truly are.
These are young boys who are dealing with adolescence as any other young boy, just like Phillips’ own son. The young pirates have problems with authority and leadership, and they resist the advice from Phillips, even as he tries to help them steer the lifeboat correctly toward the shorelines of Somalia.
“Look at me. I am the captain now,” the young pirate leader tells Phillips of the situation early in the hijacking.
Phillips is able to keep calm by already knowing the endgame of the situation. The U.S. Navy is notified and three giant cruisers and battleships circle around the lifeboat. But Phillips doesn’t want any of his four captors to die an unnecessary death.
Phillips respects the pirate leader as the captain, as it is he who is in control of the ship, and he even calls him Captain as he delivers wise advice in the lifeboat. He knows being captain is more than just the title and wants them to realize it, but the four pirates refuse to realize the consequences until it’s too late.
It was perfect to place Tom Hanks as the leading man of this film: A man stranded alone in the ocean, in desperate need of outside help while being held captive for a prolonged time inside an area that is the size of the worst college dorm room is practically a mix of his past films “Castaway”and “Apollo 13.”
The themes tackle generational gaps and the concept of privilege and borrows moments from films like “Boyz in the Hood.”The ending scene is similar to the final scene in “Zero Dark Thirty” and employed real members of the U.S. Navy to shoot.
“Captain Phillips” is a great movie to watch solely for the on-screen chemistry between the characters. Tom Hank’s professionalism and the surprising performances of the four boys, chosen out of an audition of 300, were truly what made the film.
However, Captain Phillips’s right-hand man was poorly casted, poorly acted, and ultimately, he was given too large a role in the film.
I entered the theater screening skeptical of how the film would handle this topic and came away glad to have watched this movie.
Disclaimer: The film displays a very strong perception that Captain Phillips was a very precautious man and did his best to save his crew from this situation. However, Phillips is now in alawsuit ordered by one of his crewmanthat Phillips’ negligence in fact created the hostage situation. We don’t yet know the verdict, but this situation potentially changes the impact of who exactly Captain Phillips is when all is said and done.
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