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Captain Phillips (2013) ****

Captain Phillips (2013) ****

What's fascinating about the story of Captain Phillips is the story behind the story; the one not shown in this film. Captain Phillips, the film, focuses on Captain Richard Phillips, whose cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked in 2009 off the Somali coast by local pirates. Phillips ends up being taken off the ship as a hostage, his captures hoping to negotiate his release in return for ransom money. The events that ensued, including a substantial effort by the American Navy, authorized by President Obama to use force and free Phillips in case his life is in danger, had been turned in the capable hands of action film director Paul Greengrass, into an engaging action-thriller. Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips, and Barkhad Abdi as the leader of his captures, both give outstanding performances. Notable is also the well-written script by Billy Ray, based on the book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea (2010), by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. As far as the film goes, it is well-paced, smooth and entertaining in a nerve-wracking sort of way.
Yet there are a couple of stories that are not mentioned in Captain Phillips, the film, starting with whether Captain Phillips is indeed a hero. If so, how come eleven men of his crew have sued the Waterman Steamship Corporation and Maersk Line for nearly $50 million alleging "willful, wanton and conscious disregard for their safety" by Phillips, whom some crew members claim had a death-wish? The scope of this film review would not allow going into that discussion, but my notion is that the potential for a deeper story, one far more thought-provoking than yet another action-thriller, albeit a good one, was completely amiss.
There is also the story of the Somali pirates. It is easy to paint it all in black and white with the Somalis being the bad guys. But while by no means is their piracy justified, there is more to their story than plain greed. "After the collapse of the central government in the ensuing civil war [RD: which started in 1991, and to a large degree is still going on,] the Somali Navy disbanded. With Somali territorial waters undefended, foreign fishing trawlers began illegally fishing on the Somali seaboard and ships from big companies started dumping [RD: toxic and nuclear] waste off the coast of Somalia. This led to the erosion of the fish stock. Local fishermen subsequently started to band together to protect their resources. After seeing the profitability of ransom payments, some financiers and former militiamen later began to fund pirate activities, splitting the profits evenly with the pirates. In most of the hijackings, the pirates have not harmed their prisoners." [Source: Wikipedia]. These details are ignored but for a tiny mentioning in the film.

A couple additional notes:
1. Captain Phillips' story also makes no explicit mentioning of the number of hijacking that went on in that part of the world. Though the heyday of piracy in the Indian Ocean is reportedly over, for well over a decade hundreds of ships were attacked and thousands of seafarers were taken hostage.
2. I highly recommend the psychological Danish thriller A Hijacking, which is reviewed on this web site. It is also about the hijacking of a cargo ship, but it’s a very different story altogether.

Back to Captain Phillips, the film: we all love heroes and Captain Phillips has the making of an all American hero. But ultimately it reminds of the saying (paraphrasing): tell the story because it's interesting, not because its true.

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