March 30, 2015
Captain Phillips (2013)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman

What it's about. Set during the height of the Somali pirate seizures of foreign vessels. They would steal the cargo and hold the crew for ransom. Coastal Somali fisherman are coerced by armed thugs into becoming pirates.

Meanwhile, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his crew are passing by Somalia in their large private merchant ship. They are hunted, and eventually captured, by four machine gun-toting Somali pirates. Ultimately, the pirates abandon the ship, but take Phillips hostage in a lifeboat. The U.S. Navy arrives in force, and fools the pirate 'captain' (Barkhad Abdi) into coming aboard their battleship. Snipers take out the other three pirates, rescuing Phillips, although not until he endures considerable trauma.

How others will see it. Captain Phillips was a box office success. Its U.S. gross was double its budget, and that excludes foreign box office, and home video sales and rentals. The movie was also a hit with critics. It was nominated for six Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screnplay), and nine BAFTA Awards. The Golden Globes added another four nominations. The only win from those 19 nods was Barkhad Abdi, as Best Supporting Actor.

But many who saw the movie in the theaters had to walk out on it. The reason is the shaky hand-held camera, which gave the audience motion sickness, reminiscent of the final ten minutes of The Blair Witch Project. Home viewers did not have this problem, since the screen was smaller.

Today at, the movie has a whopping 275K user votes, and a very high and consistent user rating of 7.9 out of 10. Most viewers find the drama gripping, and praise the performance of the ever-likable Tom Hanks.

How I felt about it. The first question that comes to mind is, "How accurate is the movie? Does it credibly represent what happened?" For the most part, the answer is, "Yes." But there are moderate problems.

The actor playing the 'captain' pirate, Barkhad Abdi, has been acclaimed for his performance. There may be politically correct aspects to that, but the sticking point is the age difference. The actor was ten years older than his character, who was only 18 at the time of the hijacking. There is a vast gap of maturity between 18 and 28, even in Somalia, where kids presumably have to grow up quickly to get by.

There's also the matter of the pirate cutting his feet on broken glass. This secondary plot is completely fictional, and not especially credible. Also, Captain Phillips did not volunteer to go with the pirates into the lifeboat. He was abducted by force.

In fact, he wasn't a hero at all. He was a victim. And he was partly to blame for that, since he took a more direct path (300 miles offshore from Somalia) instead of the recommended, more circuitous route (600 miles offshore) that would likely have prevented the ship seizure.

We are also suspicious of scenes that frame Phillips as a nice, caring man, hoping to save the life of the less-aggressive kidnapper, and tending to the cuts on his feet (that never happened in the first place).

Hanks as Phillips is much too active and talkative on the lifeboat. He even tries to write a note with pen and paper. In real life, he would have kept his mouth shut and stood still as much as possible so as not to provoke the pirates. The filmmakers know this, but are lazy, and fall to the temptation of providing confrontations between Phillips and the thug pirate (Faysal Ahmed) that did occur, but in a different context.

The only reason that the movie was ever made was because Captain Phillips survived. In recent years, American hostages have been beheaded by ISIS insurgents. Don't expect those victims to be portrayed by leading Hollywood actors anytime soon.

Nonetheless, much of the story presented was true. Hanks did try to swim from the lifeboat, and was recaptured by the pirates. He was rescued, and the 'captain' pirate is in a U.S. prison. The principal events went down, although there were inevitable minor differences throughout. For example, Phillips was not in shock during his medical examination. Directors love the dramatic.

There are two morals to the movie. The most obvious is, don't mess with the U.S. Navy. They have vast resources at their disposal, beyond what you can imagine.

A more useful moral is that, when involved in a short-term relationship, the course of action is to lie incessantly. One could make a drinking game out of all the lies told throughout the movie, by Phillips, the pirates, and the U.S. Navy. If players drink whenever a lie is told, they will pass out long before the final reel.