Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Captain Phillips [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J.P. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Captain Phillips [2013] (directed by Paul Greengrass, screenplay by Billy Ray, based on the book A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips and Stephen Talty) tells the true story of the hijacking of the U.S. flagged merchant vessel Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia in April 2009 largely through the perspective of Richard Phillips (played magnificently in the film by Tom Hanks) the ship's captain and Somali hijackers' principal captive, who (mild SPOILER ALERT) was ultimately freed by U.S. Navy Seals in a shoot-out aboard/about a life-boat from the Maersk Alabama on which the highjackers sought to flee along with Phillips as their captive. 

The rather spectacular shootout (again AT SEA aboard/about A LIFE BOAT) that left all the hijackers dead/captured and Phillips and all the US Navy personnel uninjured was widely reported in the Press at the time though it honestly took its recreation in the film for one to appreciate how it all took place.  Honestly, this could have been the most spectacular shootout in American history since those that took place at The Alamo, the OK Corral or during the final police ambush seeking to apprehend Bonnie and Clyde.  As such, as violent as the story ultimately was, it probably deserved telling.

To their credit, the film-makers, did try, in as much as possible to humanize the Somali pirates using Somali-American immigrants as actors (Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali) speaking Somali (subtitled into English) during the film, the dialogue in the film noting the obvious that in desperately poor, often enough famine stricken Somalia legitimate job prospects are "rather slim" (One would think, however, that in a famine stricken country, "fishermen" no matter how poor their catch would be would do "quite well" ... Still in a desperately poor country, organized crime bosses could easily be imagined as coming in to sequester the fishermen's boats for "a different kind of fishing ..." as apparently is exactly what's happened in Somalia). 

This is to say that the film-makers did try quite hard NOT to make this film into "a remake" of the horrendous and shockingly-propagandistic film Zulu [1964] where the Zulus who were defending THEIR LAND against British colonial encroachment were portrayed as simply crazed, utterly incomprehensible savages that set-upon an eminently "civilized" (and still red-coated) British army armed already with "hoard leveling"/"civilized order producing" Gattling guns.   [Note that my religious order, the Servants of Mary, and indeed my province, the USA Province of the Servite Friars, has been responsible for the Catholic Church's mission in Kwazulu (Zululand) since its inception following WW II]. Still one would hope that the Somali-American actors who were hired for this film will be able to find more positive roles to play in future Hollywood productions ...

An interesting comparison could be made between this film and a recent Danish film, A Hijacking (orig. Kapringen) [2012], about a hijacking of a Danish-flagged ship owned by a Danish corporation by Somali pirates.  The film makers there chose not to make any of the Somali hijackers comprehensible except for their English speaking negotiator.  The Danes also didn't have recourse to any equivalent to the U.S. Navy Seals.  So the story of that hijacking took a decidedly different (though also quite/very interesting) trajectory -- one involving (necessarily) "high stakes" negotiations between the pirates and the Danish company owning the ship / responsible for its crew.  Still the U.S. is not Denmark and it would have been doubtful that the American firm owning the Maersk Alabama could have negotiated the same kind of deal as the Danes did in the other story.

All in all, Captain Phillips' story is one that deserves to have been told and was told quite well.  I just hope that the Somali-Americans playing the hijackers in the film are able to find more positive roles in the future.

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