Captain Phillips Review
Ever since I first watched Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks as a plane crash survivor isolated on a Pacific island, it was obvious he was an unforgettable and incredible actor, pouring emotion out of every role he imbued. The same goes for this film, the true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years.
In an interview with the Telegraph Director Paul Solon Phillips Attorney Greengrass explained how the film was a tale of two Captains from different Worlds, saying: ‘I wanted to show what it would be like to be a Captain on a ship when that happened. What do you do? You have to try and keep your crew safe, and when the situation deteriorates his first instinct was to, as he says, lock down and wait for help’. Greengrass was set on making the film as authentic as possible – filming in international waters, no ports or harbours, shooting the entire film on a functioning cargo ship and casting real Somalis to play the roles of the pirates, ‘The authenticity of the film depended, to my eye, on having Somalis play Somalis so they could express the truth of the situation.’
Barkhad Abdi plays the Somali-pirate Captain, Muse. To my eye the casting of this character was as important as getting the A-lister for Captain Phillips’ role. Muse and his hijacking pirate-associates are first seen in a small Somali village being intimidated by thugs, sent from the province’s commanding Warlord, into finding a cargo ship and stealing its contents – killing anyone who gets in their way. Straight away we are torn between a feeling of despair for the Somali villagers forced into piracy and shock at how willing they are to go, because life for them does not offer any other opportunities like this one.
Just like the sea, Captain Phillips is a film about wild, uncontrollable, moving emotion. It is a film about hope and despair. A twist of Muse’s principal hope of riches, popularity and in his words ‘business’, and Phillips’ fragile hope of survival, as well as the Captain’s despair at the threatening situation and Muse’s despair at the consequences of his actions. Throughout the film there is an increasing tension, one that gravitates around the pirates finding the hidden crew and how Phillips is to get the hijackers off the ship. A strange and enjoyable relationship forms between Muse and Phillips. There are not large quantities of dialogue but Muse ‘comforts’ Phillips when things get at their most escalated saying, ‘It’s gonna be alright Irish, it’s gonna be alright’.
One aspect of the film stands out above any other: The Somali’s brutish acting with their eyes and facial expressions. I found myself looking away from the subtitles and just focusing on what they were saying in Somali (or Arabic) and just staring at their eyes. The hate that was behind them, the aggression and the hopelessness all created an authenticity that Greengrass wanted to achieve. This gave me a true understanding of what Phillips and his crew went through, and in a sense what the Somali pirates went through as well.
Along with the unceasing rise and falls of tension, the suffocating closed-room characteristic of the film was brilliant. At one stage the hijackers take Phillips hostage in a cramped, sealed lifeboat and attempt to make a move for the Somali coast, getting away from the cargo ship and the impending threat of the US Navy. Now a shift takes place. We see the pirates becoming agitated, helpless and overpowered by the situation they’ve found themselves in. We are given an insight into the raw emotions of the Somali pirates as the enormous storm of despair closes in on them, turning them against one another and towards Phillips.
The Navy catch up with the boat and in a final half-an-hour showdown attempts rescue of Phillips. Tension builds as he is told to sit in the seat he has always found himself in, seat 15, and he will be safe. As the Navy Seal snipers line their shots up on the swaying lifeboat, we see through the crosshair at an intense struggle within, the command room on the Navy vessel is filled with questions and counter-orders, close-ups on commanding-officers’ faces, concerned analysts, hesitant Seals and quickly back to the fight within the lifeboat, Phillips is blindfolded and being strangled, the other Somalis are shouting ‘we need him alive!’, we see the Captain struggling to breath and then… all the targets are executed in one intense, silent and instant action – and Phillips, removing his blindfold and wiping the pirate’s blood from his mouth, slumps to the floor, catches his breath and stares in horror.