Captain Phillips

click to watch trailer

In May this year, Captain Phillips shared his story of survival after he was held hostage for five days by Somali Pirates, “I vowed I would not give up. If I gave up, I realized then I truly became nothing but a hostage. Just something they could ransom for money or murder for notoriety.”

The real Captain Phillips, who wrote the book, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” upon which the movie is based, is much more jovial and animated than the character portrayed in the movie.

As with all things that are “based upon” a true story, there is always room – plenty of room – for poetic license. It is therefore cause for some concern  that the most contact Phillips had from the makers of the movie came from the wardrobe department. Even knowing this, and the controversial lawsuit filed by members of the crew, the movie itself is supremely engaging.

As with any story worth sharing, the dramatic tension peels back layers of the protagonist as well as the antagonist. While there is plenty of shaky-cam action with Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy director, Paul Greengrass at the helm, the suspense builds exponentially, even though the outcome is known to audiences.

Captain Phillips pulls of the coups d’etat of all suspense movies, utilizing character development and empathy for the bad guys in conjunction with a building inner tension with the protagonist to contrast his drive with that of the antagonist.

While Phillips is visibly frightened when his life is threatened, his actions show that his concern is first for the crew, then for the ship, and finally for his own life. Hanks does an excellent job in portraying a very intimidated yet resilient man.

Muse, leader of the Samoli pirates, is driven at once by desperation and pride; he confides things in Phillips as their dialogue – which is wonderfully done – builds trust in order to manipulate. While the Captain’s ability to anticipate his opponent is muddied by fear and lack of experience, Muse’s own pride often undercuts his ambitions. More importantly, Muse’s ambitions are inherently self-destructive and the severely malnourished, drug addicted pirate sees first hand his own weaknesses when Phillip’s leadership demonstrates a loyalty that is not based on fear.

The interaction on the raft between Phillips and Muse makes for a great third act. The movie isn’t only about a game of cat and mouse, a contest of wills, it’s about the choice every man has: to live in fear, or live for purpose, and the story follows the consequences each path bears out.

Phillips, after successfully cajoling the pirates off the ship and away from his crew, has one last card to play to save himself from the four pirates, now running thin on motivation and hope. The captain tries relating to Muse, who holds loosely his position of leadership over the other three Somalis. Phillips says to Muse, “There must be something more than fishing and kidnapping people.” To which Muse responds, “Maybe in America.”

The pirate had offered up a defense of his actions, explaining to the captain that this kidnapping business was just that, a business, and there was never any intention of bringing harm to him or his crew. Muse has to pay “taxes” after all, and he goes on to explain that he took six million from another cargo ship. The captain is emboldened, perhaps with sheer impatience at a lingering threat, and responds, “Why are you here then?” “Shuddup, Irish” Muse replies with Phillips’ appointed nickname, “You talk too much.”

Captain Richard Phillips reacts

This scene sets up a doubly-poignant interaction between the two during the climax, which sprawls through about fifteen minutes of ebb and flow between near escape and almost complete loss of hope.

Muse has Phillips by the collar, with his .45 pressed against his forehead, he is about to murder as the last resort of defying the American military bearing down on him, keeping his pride intact and asserting his authority in the presence of his own crew. Phillips looks Muse square in the eyes and says, “You’re not just a fisherman.” The difference in both Phillips’ and Muse’s interpretations of that statement is finally made clear to Muse, who was given the opportunity by Phillips to show that he doesn’t have to murder to prove himself as a leader.

The real Captain’s speech in Vermont had one important message to convey, “We really are stronger than we know. ” Click the picture to the right to see the interview of his reaction to the movie on Fox News.

overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use

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