Movie review: Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips is engrossing and intense. The movie starts out showing Captain Phillips leading an ordinary life in Vermont. Then driving to the airport to catch a flight to the ship he would captain.

Two things poked at me during the drive. “Wow,” I thought, “They really do have a lot of space in Vermont. Look at those empty multiple-lane highways!” And then, “Really? Do people drive themselves to the airport, then say goodbye to their spouse, who gets in the driver’s seat to drive off? Why doesn’t the spouse drive the way to the airport too?” Perhaps that is just me.

I was rather taken aback by the amount of resources that the US put towards the rescue of Captain Phillips. First a Navy vessel was sent. Then Navy SEALs. Is this routine? Or a special situation? It was a lot of resources devoted to one guy. Not that I wouldn’t want the resources used to rescue me if I had been kidnapped by Somali pirates. I just find it curious.

The story was engrossing. Thankfully, the kidnapping wasn’t completely depicted as black and white, good guys vs. bad guys. There was some grey area. For example, Captain Phillips naively stated that there must be something other than piracy or fishing to do in Somalia. The pirate captain’s response? In America, maybe there are choices. In Somalia, no. Ah, the sheltered view of some Americans who believe that everyone in the world must lead lives full of opportunities. That it’s just a matter of choice.

The Somali pirates are doomed—in terms of life in general and the kidnapping specifically. They have no choice but to continue to follow the path they are on. At the beginning of the movie, we saw where they came from in Somalia. We also learn that who they report to will not be understanding if they do not succeed. They must either succeed or die trying. These are their only choices. They are desperate men. And desperate men literally have nothing to lose. Large swathes of people in the world—and perhaps even some Americans—are just like them. They are beyond our understanding and often our realization that they exist.

Tom Hanks’ performance was superb. He had a subtle accent, what I could only imagine was a Vermont, or at least Northeastern, accent. (I am drawn to accents. Must be the language geek in me.) Hanks was very believable in the role, reacting and displaying emotions as one would expect. The best scene of his acting was the final one, after his rescue when he was undergoing a medical examination. He played someone in shock, after the Navy SEALs shot the pirates dead in front of him. Emotions washed over him, emotions that he sought to contain after the medical examiner instructed him to look her in the eye and breathe. Here was a man struggling to come to grips with the emotions coursing through him.

The storyline is somewhat controversial. The controversy isn’t about Hanks’ portrayal but of Rich Phillips’ own portrayal of himself in his book and in the movie. Regardless, Hanks immersed himself in a role that he played powerfully well. He has shown himself to be a very versatile actor, morphing from Bosom Buddies (when I first was introduced to him) to a richly deep role in Captain Phillips.


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