2009, when the MV Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates, it was
carrying 5,000 tons of African relief supplies.
No matter how desperate the poverty of its outlaw assailants might have
been, waylaying the ship would not make the world a better place. This detail
is acknowledged (but hardly belabored) in Paul Greengrass’s serviceable Captain Phillips (trailer here), which opened the
51st New York Film Festival last night.
facts of the Maersk Alabama case are well known and Greengrass sticks to them
relatively faithfully. Although an experienced
merchant officer, Captain Richard Phillips is a little uneasy about his Oman to
Mombassa cargo haul, for good reasons.
Their route will take them past the Somali coast, soon after the release
of a heightened piracy advisory.
course, the ship is attacked by pirates—twice.
The first time, Phillips’ well drilled crew foils their assault through
evasive maneuvers and improvised trickery.
Unfortunately, they cannot shake Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse and his three criminal
accomplices the next day. However, the crew fights back admirably, preventing
the pirates from assuming operational control of the vessel. Yet, in a frustrating twist of fate, Captain
Phillips is taken hostage aboard the Maersk Alabama’s lifeboat.
a tick-tock hijacking thriller, CP is
not bad at all, but it suffers when compared to Tobias Lindholm’s recently
released A Hijacking, which is superior
film in every respect. Frankly, Greengrass’s
film can be divided into two halves, the first be considerably stronger than
the second. CP is indeed quite riveting when following Phillips and his hidden
crew as they sneak about and devise ways to communicate with each other.
though, the film slackens somewhat once the action moves to the lifeboat. The tension ought to increase in such a considerably
more confined space, but Greengrass cranks up the deterministic angst to such
an extent, it starts to undercut the suspense.
Captain Phillips almost serves as a Greek chorus, warning Muse it will
all end in tears.
Muse’s already much quoted and scoffed at rejoinder “maybe in America” (as in
maybe you western capitalists have other options besides piracy) poorly serves
the rest of the film. It is not nearly
as didactic as that soundbite suggests, making its inclusion in trailers an
utterly baffling marketing decision. Greengrass
bends over backwards to portray Muse and his cohorts as the pawns of shadowy
masterminds, who have abandoned them to their fate. Somehow though, he never spells out their possible
connection to al-Qaeda linked al Shabaab and he certainly isn’t about to get
into the whole Islam thing.
an inconsistent New England accent, Tom Hanks finds the appropriate balance of
world weariness and Yankee gravitas for the title character. He goes all out down the stretch in hopes of
another little gold statue with interesting if imperfect results. Barkhad Abdi also deftly walks his tightrope,
expressing Muse’s erratically violent nature as well as his metaphorical (and
literal) hunger pains.
the real stars of CP is the imposing
Maersk Alabama (or rather the nearly identical Maersk Alexander, which serves
as its stand-in) and the U.S. Navy. The
ships (including the USS Truxtun doubling for the USS Bainbridge) look
awe-inspiring and the Navy Seals are cool, calm, and deadly professional. Even though the Navy employs forms of
deception, not once will reasonable viewers question the actions they take.
Greengrass shows a tremendous facility for
shooting in and around the hulking ships and making the complicated chain of
events perfectly clear and easy to follow.
As a technical feat, the movie is hugely impressive. Yet, it lacks the insight and soul-draining
intensity of its Danish counterpart.
Reasonably taut and tight, Captain
Phillips is still a good sight better than Green Zone would lead you to suspect. Recommended on balance, Captain Phillips opens wide October 11th, after kicking
off this year’s NYFF.
Labels: Capt. Richard Phillips, NYFF '13, Paul Greengrass, Somali Pirates, Tom Hanks