Directed by Paul Greengrass
Screenplay by Billy Ray
Based on the book by Richard Phillips & Stephen Talty
Starring Tom Hanks & Barkhad Abdi
A true story, no less, about the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. It’s two and a quarter hours on the edge of your seat, and though it’s long, that’s part of the tension … the whole hijack and kidnapping stretch out as in reality longer than any participant wants it to be, and are 100% involving. There is no let up, no light relief, just the horror, stress and fear of the chain of events.
It is amazing that four guys with Kalashnikovs and a wooden skiff can stop a massive container ship, board it, and take control, and even more incredible that it took two destroyers and an aircraft carrier to resolve the issue. The event happened in 2009 and one assumes the simple defensive measure of a gun or rocket launcher and a couple of commandos per ship would have prevented it. I was on a flight from Asia years ago, next to a guy who had been recruiting Gurkhas as security guards for cruise ships, because of South-East Asian pirates. The Somali pirate problem is later, but it would seem worth paying a little to protect the ships in the area … armed merchant ships were the rule rather than the exception in the 18th and 19th centuries. Water cannon singularly failed to work.
Tom Hanks puts in a huge performance … going through every emotion until finally it all collapses and he has had enough, then we see him in the state of shock in the aftermath. On the other side, Barkhad Abdi as Muse (the leader), Barkhad Abdirahman as Bilal and Faysal Ahmed as Narjee are cadaverous, desperate and totally believable. You wouldn’t have wanted get sprayed with their blood at the end either. As the IMDB has no previous bios you wonder where and how they got there. Are you supposed to feel sympathy with these fishermen recruited by gang leaders? I can’t say that worked if you were supposed to. We just thought the one who survived was lucky … 33 years in an American jail looks like a definite improvement in living standards. Though it’s most telling when Muse boasts of getting a $10 million ransom from a Greek ship a year earlier, and Hanks’ Captain Phillips just asks, ‘So what are you doing here?’ The answer is that these guys are lowly employees. The ship boarding itself is incredible stunt work.
The cinema had English subtitles throughout which looked as if for the hard of hearing … (sound of shouting) (sound of engines) etc, but it may be a device to move smoothly from English to Somali … after the initial irritation it was easier to have the titles running all the time rather than popping up whenever Somali was being spoken.
Yes, Hanks should be an Oscar contender. Again. The filming is brilliant … what’s odd is that the opening domestic couple of minutes in Vermont are jerky stuttering camera work. Obviously an effect, but one that doen’t run on. A brilliant and absorbing movie, though I’m not sure you’d want to see it twice. Well, not for a few years anyway.