In 2009, ruggedly handsome and heroic Richard Phillips, Captain of the MV Maersk Alabama, was taken hostage by Somali pirates a few hundred miles off the Horn of Africa, after his ship was boarded and his crew threatened. He courageously put his own life in danger, to prevent any harm to his crew, as the pirates elected to forget about the ship and instead collect a ransom on Phillips.
I went in to this film in two mindsets. The first, that I wanted to know the “true” story upon which it was based. The second, that I wished to see the film without any prior knowledge of the events. Two completely conflicting ideas, I realise. Ultimately I decided to avoid the true story in favour of the big screen, at least until after the fact. I am glad for this, as uncovering the story proved to be very interesting.
In reality, in 2009, reckless, angry bastard Richard Phillips, Captain of the MV Maersk Alabama, and proud owner of a deathwish, was taken hostage by Somali pirates practically at his own behest, in order to become quite the hero and news item of the day. This is what a few of his crew have alleged since the incident, and have found themselves frustrated at Phillips’ election to pen the book upon which the film was based, and blatantly change the facts to suit himself.
This is action-thriller Captain Phillips, a film that will help you lose faith in the phrase “based on a true story”. That is not to say it isn’t an excellent story, and the fudged facts really only revolve around the Captain himself. The screenplay was written by Billy Ray, known for his screenplays of Volcano and The Hunger Games, and directed by Paul Greengrass, well known for his dramatisations of real-life events, such as Bloody Sunday, and United 93, and also for The Bourne Ultimatum.
Veteran actor Tom Hanks plays the eponymous “hero” with aplomb, as I very much expected him to. One thing I really appreciated about the film is the lack of big names. The story, regardless of its factuality, is not detracted by an ensemble cast. Other than Hanks and a brief appearance by Catherine Keener portraying his wife, I didn’t recognise any other actors. Somali-American actor Barkhad Abdi, who portrayed the pirate leader Abduwali Muse, was excellently chosen for the role, having the perfect look, as well as a scary demeanour.
The film lightly touches upon the poverty, corruption and lawlessness of Somalia and its surrounds, and shows the cluelessness and desperation of the rookie would-be pirates, slaves to “khat”, a plant from The Horn known for its amphetamine-like buzz when chewed. Leader Muse frequently talks about his dreams to travel to the United States, and the band of pirates often show their lack of smarts, falling prey to many tricks by Phillips, the crew, and the United States Navy.
In itself it makes a very good tale, and still leaves you thinking “this really happened!”. The film is tense right up until the last minute, and I may have even shed a tear at the end (manly tears, of course). Even though the film is a long one, you don’t seem to notice, it’s just that enthralling. I would definitely recommend a viewing.