The story of Captain Phillips, who was Master of the MV Maersk Alabama when it was hijacked by Somali pirates is a tense knife-edge journey through the eyes of a man and his captors. April 7 2009 sees Captain ‘Rich’ Phillips taking his boat down the Somali coastline aware of advisories that Somali pirates were at work. His vessel with 17,000 tons of cargo aboard was bound for Somalia, Uganda and Kenya and over 5,000 tons was of aid for Somalia alone.
From the coast a small band of pirates were preparing to find a ‘big catch’ as they followed the instructions of local overlords who rule the villages. Today was not the day for the Alabama. Director Paul Greengrass brings the skill he wove into the Bourne movies to quickly ramp up the tension in this documentary drama. In fact I would go as far to say I have not been as consistently tense throughout a movie as I was for this production. A quick glance around the theatre saw people on the edge of their seat leaning forward as the story played out. The production values for this story filmed in Malta are exceptional. The cinematography, acting and consistently upfront faces to the camera lens are the recipe that will draw you into the ‘line of fire’.
The movies opening sees Tom Hanks playing Captain Phillips the family man flying out of his US home to Oman ready for yet ‘another’ journey. He meets his crew, goes through the procedures and asks for a greater level of security around the boat based on what has been happening in the waters of Somalia. Juxtapose to this the poor village from which the pirates derive. You can’t help but have some empathy. The food is scarce, the characters gaunt, and yet the ‘powers at be’ push for more results to feed the local taxation.
Our story is well paced as the pirates in their fragile runabout ‘skiffs’ pursue the larger leviathan vessel. Once in its sights the Captain orders his crew to hid in the engine room and a game of on-board cat and mouse begins. Just when we feel the crew have the upper hand the pirates play another card capturing Captain Phillips and departing on the ships motorised lifeboat.
After the Somalis are in the water they have one goal, get back to Somalia with a prize hostage as soon as possible. This is a goal the US cannot afford to take place. Orders from the highest level allow ‘any means necessary’ to stop the hostage drama from playing out. The arrival of the US navy with the USS Bainbridge and a Navy Seal team begin the negotiation that include tight quarters, marksman and middle of the night escape attempts. As you hear both the Somali pirates evaluate their position and the US Navy consider the way this could play out you realise the sharpness of the knife-edge this event took place on.
While the kudos for this movie has a lot to do with Paul Greengrass and his directing, high praise is coming in for the actors. I would agree with many who are saying Tom Hanks has returned to his best since Castaway. From opening to close you ride the emotional possibilities with Captain Phillips. The final scene of his rescue is indelibly etched on my mind for both the fear and relief. The entire cast from crew to Navy Seals all appear to have pulled command performances but the Somali pirates led by Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse and Tom Hanks definitely made this an incredible movie experience.
Rating: M Violence.