The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Captain Phillips | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Captain Phillips

The captain of a US freighter is taken hostage by Somali pirates.

Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Catherine Keener

In 2009, the US freighter Maersk Alabama sets off for Mombassa, Kenya, its crew led by Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks). When Phillips notices a pair of small crafts approaching his ship, he immediately prepares the crew for an attack by pirates. His fears are confirmed when the crafts approach, manned by Somali pirates. After Phillips fools them into believing a US helicopter is about to arrive, one of the pirate vessels turns back but the other continues on and eventually four pirates board the Maersk. With the crew refusing to cooperate with the pirates, Phillips is abducted by them and taken aboard a lifeboat headed for the Somali mainland.
It's a struggle to recall a movie with such a thrilling first half followed by such a dull second half. I was unfamiliar with the details of the real-life 2009 rescue of Phillips, apart from the fact that he was indeed rescued, so the movie's tense first half, set aboard the Maersk, had me quite on edge. I knew Phillips was safe but I was unaware of the fates of his crew-mates. This lack of knowledge kept me onside with Greengrass' ultimately flawed decision to film the story as an action thriller rather than a straight drama. 
Once Phillips is isolated, the movie loses all its tension as we know retrospectively that he's in no real danger.
At this point you would expect Greengrass to switch focus to the pirates as, surrounded by the might of the US Navy, they have now become the underdogs in the scenario and, as cinema-goers, we have a natural inclination to root for the underdog. Sadly, the pirates are little more than caricatures that will be all too familiar to anyone who has seen any cliched hostage drama. We get the intelligent, composed leader, the aggressive one who just might lose his cool and erupt in violence and the teenager who seems to be in over his head. The actors try their best but can't cover up such poor writing.
If you want to see a well executed drama on this topic, I suggest you check out the Danish drama 'A Hijacking', released earlier this year. If you're one of those odd people who refuse to read subtitles, you'll probably opt for 'Captain Phillips' but, ironically, the American film contains a lot more subtitling than its Danish cousin.

Eric Hillis