Reader’s film review - Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips.
Captain Phillips.

“Arrogant” - “Bragged he wasn’t afraid pirates” - “Had a death wish” - “Showed a complete disregard for the safety of his crew” - “Nothing like the “hero” shown in the film”.

So say the crew members of The Maersk Alabama, the container ship hijacked by Somalian Pirates in March 2009, the subject of Captain Phillips.

Somebody should remind them that this is Hollywood. Home of the exaggerated, romanticised and sometimes completely fabricated plot line.

However this terrific tale of tension and suspense is not your normal Hollywood blockbuster.

Irrespective of the real Richard Phillip’s actions, this is a performance made for Tom Hanks, Hollywood’s go to man for likeable Everyman in distress, and unsurprisingly Hanks turns in a stellar central performance.

As the plot begins to develop, you would be forgiven in thinking you have seen this all before.

Captain Phillips could have easily been directed by Ron Howard or Robert Zemeckis. The Howard-Zemmeckis-Hanks triumvirate would have made for an easy and lucrative triumph-over-adversity watch (see Castaway, Forest Gump and Apollo 13).

But Bang! Bourne trilogy’s Paul Greengrass swoops in, famed for his frantic editing and MEGA close up actions sequences. There’s plenty of that here, but we also get Greengrass’s more interesting penchant for political messages, mainly through the films presentation of the captors.

They first appear as your stereotypical shouting, crazy, Khat-chewing Somalian pirates that the media wants us to fear.

But so strong are the performances of the native Somalian actors (Especially Barkhad Abdi’s lead captor Muse), and so brave the directing that during key sequences we are reminded that these are not the mindless terrorists that normally make up the Hollywood’s bad guys.

These are desperately poor citizens of a country where half it’s 6 million population are starving, where food distribution is controlled by armed gangs, where boys as young as 10 are forced into piracy. They are just trying to make money to feed their family and this is the only way they can.

There is no “Hollywood” ending either. As Phillips is left a shuddering, whimpering mess unable to come to terms with the ordeal he has just experienced. But he will be fine. He goes back to America to get on with his life.

The final frame before the credits reminds us that the lead captor will spend the rest of his life in a US prison, and it is HE the audience will feel lingering anguish for, not the American “hero”.