Arts Review, Movies, The Arts

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips featured image

Photo from

Paul Greengrass, director

Billy Ray, script based on A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips and Stephen Talty

Starring: Tom Hanks (Capt. Richard Phillips), Barkhad Abdi (Muse), Barkhad Abdirahman (Bilal), Faysal Ahmed (Najee), Mahat M. Ali (Elmi), Catherine Keener (Andrea Phillips), Michael Chernus (Shane Murphy), David Warshofsky (Mike Perry), Corey Johnson (Ken Quinn), Yul Vazquez (Captain Frank Castellano)

The buzz

The story of real-life hero Captain Richard Phillips, a merchant seaman who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009 has the stuff of Hollywood written all over it. Columbia Pictures optioned his memoir of a regular American fighting against the odds to triumph over adversity almost immediately. Tom Hanks signed on to play Phillips in 2011, only increasing media attention on what was clearly a major studio project. With Paul Greengrass, the expert director of two biggest Bourne hits (Supremacy and Ultimatum), signed on to create the film’s big action sequences, Captain Phillips commanded audience and media attention well before its commercial release.

The genres

Action thriller; seafaring adventure

The premise

Captain Rich Phillips, a career seaman, signs on to take the Maersk Alabama across the horn of Africa with a cargo of food assembled by humanitarians, but his ship’s journey is impeded by the terrifying arrival of Somali pirates. Taken hostage by four Somalis led by the gaunt, hyped-up but intelligent Muse, Phillips craftily has his crew scatter glass, cutting the feet of a barefoot pirate, as he and Muse inspect the ship. In the resulting confusion, Muse is, in turn, captured. An exchange of captains, with the Somalis also given some cash, goes wrong and Phillips is taken prisoner again—and put out to sea with the pirates.

US Navy SEALS are alerted and go into action to save Phillips—or at least, make sure that the pirates don’t succeed in holding him for ransom in Somalia. The action gets tenser and tenser as the confrontation between the Somalis and the SEALS ramps up, with fatal consequences bound to occur.

The performances

There are really only two. Hanks effectively underplays his role as Phillips, allowing his quiet authority and cool courage to seem all that more convincing. Barkhad Abdi more than matches him as Muse, the pirate leader, who knows he’s out of his depth but doggedly attempts to pull off the kidnapping of a American sea captain.

The director

Paul Greengrass’ career is curious: he’s a brilliant action director but also has a genuinely interesting political sensibility. Besides the Bourne films, he’s helmed Bloody Sunday about the killing of civil rights protestors in Ireland and United 93, about the 9/11 flight where Americans died preventing suicide bombers from reaching their target.

Captain Phillips is perfect material for him and he acquits himself marvelously in a well-made intelligent thriller.

The skinny

Captain Phillips is a mainstream film with a difference. This well paced thriller allows us time to understand the predicament of the Somalis, who are not cardboard villains. In a key exchange, Phillips asks Muse, “Isn’t there anything you can do besides fishing and being a pirate?” To which Muse answers: “Maybe in America.” Of course, now the real Muse is serving a more than 30-year sentence in a U.S. prison. And Phillips (quite rightly) is a hero.

Captain Phillips is sure to be a hit. If you like thrillers, you’ll enjoy this one—and even if you don’t love action films, this one is worth seeing.

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