Film Review by Kam Williams
On April 9, 2009, the Maersk Alabama, an American container ship headed for Mombasa, Kenya, was hijacked on the high seas in an area that had become very popular with Somali pirates preying on international commerce. Despite having recently practiced evasive maneuvers in the event of just such an attack, the vessel’s 20-man crew’s flare gun and fire hoses proved no match for the fearless, heavily-armed quartet high on an herbal stimulant called chat.
After climbing aboard, the drug-emboldened buccaneers abandoned the idea of commandeering the cumbersome, 500+ foot-long craft carrying 17,000 metric tons of cargo, since all they were really after was a multimillion-dollar ransom. Instead, they opted to take Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) hostage on one of his own lifeboats as a very valuable bargaining chip.
However, when their demands fell on deaf ears, a standoff ensued in the middle of the ocean. Soon, a destroyer stationed near the Gulf of Aden, the USS Bainbridge, was dispatched to the scene, and its Captain, Frank Castellano (Yul Vasquez), feigned negotiating while simultaneously securing permission from President Obama to hatch a daring rescue plan.
Directed by Paul Greengrass (United 93), Captain Phillips is certain to invite comparison to the somewhat similarly-plotted Zero Dark Thirty, given how both recount a real-life mission mounted by a crack team of Navy SEALs. The difference, however, is that this adventure amounts to little more than a high-anxiety orgy of worry unfolding from the perspective of the imperiled kidnap victim, while the relatively-cerebral Zero Dark Thirty devoted most of its attention to delineating the intricate details involved in the complicated manhunt for Osama bin Laden.
Curiously, this movie repeatedly makes the presumably politically-correct point of reminding us that these madmen are not Muslim terrorists, but without offering much of a hint as to their motivations besides money. Nevertheless, Tom Hanks does bring his A-game here, even if he’s cooped-up in close quarters acting opposite a B-support cast (Barkhad Abdirahaman, Mahat M. Ali, Barkhad Abdi and Faysal Ahmed) for the bulk of the picture.
Unfortunately, his one-note abductors are painted as soulless, primitive natives right out of a typical Tarzan flick. Sure, the bloodlust payoff is bigger when the bad guys are the frightening embodiment of pure evil with no redeeming qualities. Yet, this production would’ve benefited immeasurably from just a little development of the villains’ characters.
Shades of Cast Away (2000), with Tom Hanks being tortured by sadists as opposed to talking to a volleyball for over an hour while waiting for the cavalry to arrive.
Very Good (3 stars)
PG-13 for intense violence, sustained terror, bloody images and drug abuse In English and Somali with subtitles
Running time: 134 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
To see a trailer for Captain Phillips, visit
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