Friday, October 11, 2013

"Captain Phillips", riveting at the end, yet a workmanlike morality "play" at sea

“Captain Phillips”, from Paul Greengrass and Columbia Pictures, is certainly riveting for most of its length.  How with the Navy, waiting for the Seals to arrive, strategize the hostage situation and rescue the Captain (Tom Hanks) who has been taken off the ship by the pirates (the lead teen is played by a gaunt Barkhad Abdi in a small orange motorized lifeboat.  It is written by Billy Ray.
Yet, the universe of the movie is rather limited, except for an opening sequence in Vermont (actually Minnesota) where Phillips tells his wife that the shipping companies are placing increasing pressure on captains. It’s sea and ships and not much else, rather like the contents of the 1993 weekend when I visited a submarine and various ships at the Naval Base in Norfolk early in the “military ban” debate. 
One thing I wondered is why commercial ships in the area don’t have armed security.  On an issue like this, the NRA is right.  An attack like what happens in the movie would be impossible. Actually, it’s in stages: first, a couple of “skifts” are hosed away, but then the ring leader comes back in a bigger boat with the idea of ransom money. 

There are a some great lines.  The lead teenager says “Look at me”  Yes, it’s all right to look at me. “I am the captain now.”  Later, when Phillips says that fishermen don’t need to kidnap people, the teen answers, “In America.”

No question, the extreme poverty and warlord social structure of Somalia seems like a moral "explanation".  The young men live in a gang culture.  But the leader is taken alive and tried in America, and sentenced to thirty years in prison. Maybe he will be better fed "in America". 

The official site is here.
A lot has been written about the real-life lawsuit against the shipping line Maesrsk, which claims that the Alabama had been told to steer several hundred miles farther East to avoid the piracy risk, as in this account in Business Week, link. And, before the first encounter, the crew of the ship complains that the men aren’t trained to defend themselves. Phillips doesn’t let them whine.

I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington, in a sold-out auditorium.  

Update: Feb. 13, 2014

I posted a review of NatGeo's "Hunt for Somali Pirates" on the TV Blog today (43 minutes).  

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