Captain Phillips is a good old fashioned film and is moreover based on a true story, the hijacking US-crewed Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in 2009. Tom Hanks stars as the embattled Captain trying to save his crew, his ship and ultimately himself in this tense, action packed thriller.
If pirates board your ship, for future reference, you are supposed to shut the boat down, make it impossible to drive, and lock yourself in the hold until help arrives. But Phillips has other ideas. Hanks deftly underplays a man struggling to hold his nerve, barely succeeding, and as a result thoroughly charming his audience.
Yet it’s not a totally one-sided story. The pirate captain played by Barkhad Abdi, is wholly convincing in the role of win-or-lose desperado. He is such a natural that it seems as if he really did come from the beach where the young men are recruited to form a pirate gang, five minutes before going to sea.
The truth is not so far off: Abdi was working as a chauffeur in the US having fled from Somalia with his parents when he was 7 to escape the civil war. He had no previous acting experience when he was recruited for the film and had no ambitions to be an actor before this jaw-dropping debut.
He and the other three Somali pirates dominate the screenplay with terrifying effect. Apart from machine guns they carry nothing but bundles of Khat, an amphetamine like stimulant which initially causes causes excitement and euphoria. But its high tends to be followed by a low period of irritability. Just what you don’t need when your boat is surrounded by US Navy Seals and helicopters.
Though it’s tense and action packed, this film is not over-violent and has the kind of conclusion that makes for satisfying drama. It’s moral outlook may be slightly US biased but it’s not over-simplified. Go and see it, if for no other reason than to experience what it must feel like to be out there on deck when you see a pirate skiff approaching…