Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenplay: Billy Ray, Richard Phillips, Stephan Talty
Biography, Crime, Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: October 11, 2013
Greg, after Castaway you’d think Tom Hanks would have had enough of movies involving mishaps in tropical waters.
In all seriousness, Hanks delivers the goods in Captain Phillips.
Let’s recap. Tom Hanks plays the role of Richard Phillips, the captain of an American tanker ship carrying goods off the coast of Africa. His ship is boarded by several Somali pirates, led by their captain named Muse (Barkhad Abdi).
Despite his best efforts, Phillips can’t keep the pirates off his ship. His crew hide below decks. The Somalis search for them but to no avail. The crew take Muse captive in exchange for Phillips. But Phillips makes a critical error and gets into the lifeboat with the Somali pirates. Now it’s a race against time as the pirates make way for the Somali coast while the Navy and their SEALS prepare to intercept.
Captain Phillips is based on a true story, and as such we pretty much know the ending of Phillips’ ordeal before the movie even begins. As such, this film faces the challenge of taking a predictable situation and somehow making it interesting to viewers. This isn’t easy, yet Captain Phillips succeeds on many levels. The movie works because of strong performances from the entire cast along with some tight, taut directing from Paul Greengrass.
It is pretty hair-raising to watch. Scott, by some measures Phillips is a hero, but by another not so much. In our analysis of hero stories we usually look for transformation – either in the main character or in those around him. In Captain Phillips there is no such transformation. Everyone ends up pretty much the way they started.
However, if we apply the “Great Eight Characteristics” of a hero as outlined in your book Heroes: What They Are and Why We Need Them, Tom Hank’s Captain Phillips does pretty well.
Yes, he does, Greg. Phillips is smart, as shown by the way he manipulates the pirates after they board his ship. He’s strong, obviously, to be able to survive such an ordeal. He’s selfless in his concerns for his crew over his own well-being. He’s also reliable, caring, and inspiring. That’s most of the Great Eight right there.
One of the best qualities of this movie is it’s attention to detail and it’s willingness to show scenes that most movies leave on the cutting room floor. For example, one of the most powerful scenes in the movie occurs, ironically, once all the dust has settled and Phillips has been rescued. Most movies end at that point and we assume a nice joyful recovery for our hero. But this movie dares to show us how Phillips is most definitely NOT okay after his harrowing experience. He’s a psychological mess as the navy personnel clean him up. This took guts to show and made me admire the makers of Captain Phillips even more.
Another thing that I thought was well-done is the presentation of the pirates themselves. They weren’t an organized group. There was dissention among them. One was a youngster – very inexperienced. Another didn’t have faith in Muse, constantly contradicting him at every turn. The scenes of the pirates inside the enclosed life boat offered a look into the desperation of the Somali people. These men had no choice but to come home with something they could ransom – or face death.
I agree, Greg. The portrayal of the pirates was handled very well. Yes, they are committing a terrible crime, but we also see the grim conditions in Somalia that can give rise to such desperate behavior. I also applaud the fact that the pirates have very distinctly different personalities. I’m reminded of Rambo movies from yesteryear where the bad guys are portrayed as a monolithic pestulence. Here we have real people making both good and bad choices that have life and death consequences. It’s riveting and powerful.
Captain Phillips is a highly effective movie that is deftly made and saturated in suspense. I give it 4 Reels out of 5. The hero story is done well, too. Phillips is faced with many, but not all, of the classic people, tests, and trials of the hero journey. Tom Hanks once again shows why he’s the greatest American actor of his generation. He steals the show yet manages to share the stage generously with a great ensemble of actors. I award his character 4 Heroes out of 5.
I think we’re in agreement here, Scott. It is a powerful story and enjoyable to watch. We walk away with a sense of what the Somali pirates are up against in their daily lives and the lengths they must go to just to survive. We also get a look at what it takes to be a captain of a modern cargo vessel.
But I have to wonder if Phillips is truly heroic. He makes some bad decisions: like being outside the commonly travelled waters and getting into the lifeboat. But once he finds himself in a bad situation, he puts the safety of his crew first above all else. I give Captain Phillips 4 Reels out of 5 and 4 Heroes out of 5.