By Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
It feels like we’ve had quite a few big name films which were based on “actual events” this year. Those that quickly come to mind are Pain and Gain, Jobs, Rush, 42 and The Conjuring. It’s not unprecedented to have a good quality of films based on actual events. Not only does this give us as an audience insight into something we may been unfamiliar with, but it’s also a way for studios to shed light on topics which that are current, or have been current in our world and bring awareness to the populace. Such it is with the latest film from director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) Captain Phillips, relating the story of the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama.
Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) is a typical New England home owner. He has a wife and children and makes a living as a ship captain. His latest assignment is to deliver a freighter of cargo from one side of Africa, through the Somali waters, around Cape Horn and to the other side for delivery. Then he’s on the next flight home, back to his wife and children. Phillips is very thorough as a ship’s captain and demands hard work. And, knowing his location, he makes sure security is at its peak, running security drills with the crew just in case. Because it’s not a matter of if you’ll be attacked by pirates in Africa, it’s a matter of when.
When just happens to come on this very job when four Somali pirates are able to hijack the freighter. Phillips stays on the bridge with two other officers while he has the rest of the crew hide. He’s able to stall the pirates for some time, keeping the crew safe, but eventually worst comes to worse and Phillips is abducted by the pirates as they make their way back to Somalia. This further escalates the scenario and it comes down to life and death, pride and ego, with the fate of Phillips and the Somali pirates slowly unfolding.
Captain Phillips is basically Tom Hanks and everyone else, with the majority of “everyone else” being actors you have never heard of before or those performing in film for the first times in their lives. Specifically, all four of the actors portraying the Somali pirates each make their acting debut in Captain Phillips. You’d be hard pressed to realize this was their first films. Each actor brings a depth and level to their character, specifically Barkhad Abdi, who portrays the pirate known as Muse. While some of the other pirates in Somalia act as if they will do what is necessary to hijack a ship and make money, Muse seems to have a conscious and a care of others. He wants to do what is necessary but the way he needs to go about it isn’t what we may expect from a pirate, or at least what we “visualize” of a pirate. Abdi brings levels to the role of Muse, pulling us into the thought process of the character and allowing us to experience what it means to be a Somalian and the need to make money and survive. Hanks, on the other hand, is top form Tom Hanks. He brings the person that is Rich Phillips to life and takes us on the emotional journey that one placed in such a situation would elicit. From his courage to his fear, his love for his family to his wanting to protect the pirates from harm, Hanks peals back layers of who Rich Phillips is and allows us to get to know this real life person through his wonderful performance.
One thing I specifically liked about Captain Phillips was how Greengrass gave us the backstory of the pirates prior to their attack. What we see in the media is that pirates attack vessels, kidnap workers, possibly killing them in the process, and taking cargo. What it doesn’t show is what drives these Somali citizens to such acts. Greengrass presents this clearly. Muse is but a man who, like everyone else, has a boss. With the hardships of many African citizens, and the inability to adequately provide for one’s family, citizens soon turn to other means to secure financial support and food. While others have been taken in, as children, into local militaries as child soldiers and made to do such acts. For Muse and his group, should he come back without the ship or the captain to ransom off for millions of dollars, his going back empty handed would inevitably lead to his death.
Muse shares his dream of going to America with Phillips, telling him about his desire to go live in New York. It is a land of opportunity and gets him out of his current plight. Piracy isn’t something he wants to do, but as he tells Phillips, “Everyone has a boss.” So Muse does what he must, trying to salvage some aspect of his “job”, in order to make some money and escape his situation. But, eventually, even he realizes the plan is futile, stating he’s come too far. For each and every man, there comes a point of no return. Muse found his. Greengrass brings back to light the plight of so many living in Africa and gives us new insight into why some of those who are pirates do what they do. It’s not necessarily out of anger or a desire to harm others, but it is due to them having little to no other option. They do the work or they die.
At its heart, Captain Phillips is a drama, delving into the psyche of two particular individuals as they battle each other and themselves. And while it has its share of action moments, which may leave you drained at the end, the real joy is found in the character interaction and the progression of this true story to its climactic conclusion. Captain Phillips, deservedly, should be in talks for Best Picture, among other awards. This is what a film based on a true life event is about. This is what story telling is about. This is life. And this is a must see movie as we move towards Oscar season.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars