‘Captain Phillips’ Faces off against Pirates

Daniel Woodhouse

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Captain Philips, starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, is an action thriller directed by Paul Greengrass.

When we typically think of pirates, we imagine the fortune seekers we’ve been told of since we were kids. They don eye patches and peg legs, and utter the timeless phrase “Arrrggg.” While modern pirates share the same thirst for riches as their 17th century counterparts, they tend to prefer AK-47s and RPGs to swords and muskets.

Off the coast of Somalia, merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips and the crew of the Maersk Alabama are transporting a large shipment of food aid to Kenya. Concerned about the recent pirate attacks on vessels in the area, Phillips orders his crew to conduct drills to prepare for a potential attack. His suspicions turn out to be correct when their radar picks up a pair of pirate boats headed for their ship. The first attack on the Alabama fails, however, one of the pirates, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, decides to personally lead the second one, which results in the pirates successfully boarding the ship. Now Phillips and his crew must find a way to stall the pirates just long enough for the Navy to arrive.

Director Paul Greengrass, best known for United 93 and the Bourne movies, returns to take the helm of another action thriller. Greengrass utilizes his slow-burn, knife edged tension of United 93, instead of the fast-paced handle camera action of the Bourne movies. Greengrass focuses more on the psychological game of cat-and-mouse the crew plays with the pirates, as they struggle to keep the ship from heading to Somalia. Writer Billy Ray crafts a script that perfectly captures the story of the hijacking of Maersk Alabama.

Tom Hanks brilliantly portrays the character Captain Richard Phillips, a man who is smart, resourceful and a natural-born leader, who proves to be fully capable of dealing with dangerous scenarios. Hanks is equally matched by Barkhad Abdi as Muse, who is cunning, yet oblivious to certain threats, and even somewhat sympathetic. Muse embodies the desperation of a people whose homeland has been in a nearly constant state of warfare for 30 years, and are willing to do whatever it takes just to get their next meal. What’s really unique is how the character’s resolve deteriorates slowly over the course of the film, as he starts out as eager and optimistic, but becomes more and more out of touch with reality as the situation goes from bad to worse. It doesn’t help that the pirates consume large amounts of a plant called “khat” that gives us the best example of what it would look like if you mixed PCP with Red Bull. This causes them to frequently go ballistic on their hostages and get big bug eyes.

All in all, Captain Phillips is a fun well-written action thriller that does a nice job of paying homage to its source material.

5 out of 5 stars