DM Haight

Pirates! We’ve come to know them as the kooky folksy dudes who run the ship (literally) in just about every Johnny Depp movie that has come out since 2003. So we comes to expect their drunken, greed driven, libido spiking thirst for wealth. Material wealth at that. But in the modern era there are still pirates, though resigned strictly to the Caribbean they are not. Today we still find pirates patrolling the African coastline, and they still commandeer ships. That’s what happened in 2009 with the Maersk Alabama hijacking, and that’s the story told in Academy Nominee Captain Philips: the adaptation of the real life events of a pirate incident on Captain Richard Philips’ ship.

When we see in Captain Philips is an incredibly down to Earth retelling of the events. Tom Hanks, being the classy stud that he is, playing the title role, pulls into the port, anxious to get the trip over with, ready to be home and with his family once again. On the flipside we see Barkhad Abdi, playing the role of pirate leader Abduwali Muse, who is personally ready to eat any scrap of food that comes his way, and prove his worth as an asset to his tribe. These are polar opposite backgrounds, motives, gains, losses, and yet they both carry with them an emotional reality that can get swept away in low tide if the director and actors aren’t careful. Paul Greengrass does an outstanding job of keeping the characters as real as real gets, and ensuring that we don’t see your average hijacking flick, complete with foreign faces, accents, and religious and/or moralistic implications. The best part about this venture is that we know the best outcome the Pirates means food for Muse and his tribe–keeping a sincerity and non-negotiable determination that doesn’t have to be questioned by anyone in the audience. It’s simple survival.

Abdi has the standout role of a life time, and what he does with it actually does a lot to carry the film along. He’s insistent, oddly charismatic, and not unwilling to resort to violence–everything a great leader needs. But the film he is in does suffer from a clichéd over-violent, idiotic, muscle-head who screws everything up for the pirates. There’s always one, and Captain Philips is no exception. Did it happen to be that way in real life? I don’t know. I haven’t personally read the book about the events, and I did not follow it religiously like others did while it was taking place. I do know that there is always one guy with a short fuse, and Captain Philips has one guy with that short fuse.

Greengrass, however, does pull out a very believable film. After his work with the Bourne series it’s remarkable that he’s been able to bring that same suspense and energy to a completely different genre. Captain Philips is not your run of the mill suspense/thriller/boat type film. It happens to fall into the melodrama genre, but it’s filmed like a thriller. The suspense we get from the expert photography, courtesy one Barry Ackroyd (Hurt locker), and from the editing of Christopher Rouse (Bourne Ultimatum), helps along a story that could easily get left up to a few unknown actors and Tom Hanks, which might not be terrible, but would be far less enjoyable.


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