Friday, 18 October 2013

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

This is a terrific movie well deserving its 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And on top of it, it's a true story torn from the headlines of the past few years.

In 2009, four Somali pirates seized the cargo ship Maersk Alabama. The crew shut down the cargo boat and the pirates didn't know how to operate it. Hoping to still demand a ransom, the pirates escaped in a life boat holding the captain hostage. The U.S. Navy stepped in and rescued the captain killing three out of the four pirates.

In 2010, Captain Richard Phillips recounted (co-written by a journalist) the story in the book "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea." It would seem that Columbia Pictures was interested in the story back in 2009 shortly after the incident occurred. The screenwriter Bill Ray, best known for the 2012 film The Hunger Games, wrote the film in 2011 and Tom Hanks came on-board after reading it.

The story is a nail-biter. What would any of us do in such circumstances? This is as close to being held hostage I want to get. Like many, I have read about the pirating that goes on off the Somali coast making it one of the more dangerous areas of the world. The word "pirate" for me evokes Jack Sparrow, that is, a colourful character back in the Middle Ages, but it would seem modern piracy is alive and well and very costly. According to the BBC, there were 151 attacks on ships with 25 successful hijackings in 2011 off the coast of Somali. Pirates earned $146 million or about $4.87 million per ship. As of February 2012, 10 vessels and 159 hostages were being held.

However, the international community, outraged at the actions of these modern day buccaneers, stepped into the fray with military ships from the European Union, NATO, the United States, Russia, Chain, Japan, and India. A patch of water the size of Europe is being regularly patrolled by armed good guys to let world shipping carry on its business unmolested. One report estimates that worldwide piracy costs over $6 billion a year. Jack Sparrow is doing a lot of business.

In watching a story like this, we get the simple good guys versus the bad guys scenario. But in reading about Somali piracy, there does seem to be an untold story about why any of this started in the first place. The per capita income of the United States is approximately $49,000 per year. Canada stands at $52,000. Somali - now try to grasp this - has a per capita income of $600. Yes, you read that right: six hundred dollars. That is pretty much the bottom of the barrel. With such abject poverty, is there any way but up? Desperate times call for desperate measures but there's more.

There are reports of the international overfishing as well as the dumping toxic wastes in the waters off of Somali. A hard situation has been made worse by unregulated ships and the root causes of piracy may not be so obvious in the newspapers screaming about hostages held for ransom. In discussing Somali piracy, Wikipedia talks about sovereignty and environmental issues which may play a factor in why some in Somali turned to a life of crime. It's a big world and it's a complicated world and everything is not always black and white.

As an aside, I note that some of the crew of the Maersk Alabama have protested the film as a re-writing of history. They claim Phillips is not the hero the film makes out and is far more responsible for getting everyone into this bad situation in the first place by repeatedly ignoring warnings to stay out of the area because of pirates. True? False? It's up to the courts to decide as apparently, according to the New York Post, eleven members of the crew are suing the owners of the cargo ship for $50 million alleging "willful, wanton and conscious disregard for their safety." Is history accurate or not? Certainly a Hollywood film goes through the treatment which may gloss over some of the less interesting facts to present a compelling story, but in this case, the whole movie is based on one man's recounting of the events. Did that man gloss over the facts to put himself in a good light?




Final Word
I highly recommend this film. The story is great, the acting excellent, and Tom Hanks as always gives a stirring performance. Connecting the film back to recent history gave me pause to wonder about what I would do in similar circumstances. Far from the various hot spots on the planet living your average life, I am ignorant of these extraordinary situations other than what I read in the newspaper. And I would add, "Thank God." Who wants to experience firsthand being held hostage under threat of death? That's something I don't necessarily want on my résumé.


References

Rotten Tomatoes: Captain Phillips: 94%
Smart, powerfully acted, and incredibly intense, Captain Phillips offers filmgoers a Hollywood biopic done right -- and offers Tom Hanks a showcase for yet another brilliant performance.

Wikipedia: Captain Phillips
Captain Phillips is a 2013 American action thriller directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks. The film is a biopic of merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by pirates in the Indian Ocean during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009.

official movie web site: Captain Phillips

Wikipedia: Maersk Alabama hijacking
The Maersk Alabama hijacking was a series of events involving piracy that began with four Somali pirates seizing the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama 240 nautical miles (440 km; 280 mi) southeast of the Somali port city of Eyl. This event ended after a rescue effort by the U.S. Navy on 12 April 2009.

Wikipedia: A Captain's Duty
A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea is a book by Captain Richard Phillips, the captain of the MV Maersk Alabama when it was hijacked in 2009.

Wikipedia: Richard Phillips (merchant mariner)
Richard Phillips was captain of the MV Maersk Alabama at the time it was held hostage by Somali pirates during the cargo ship's hijacking in April 2009. His actions during the incident have been described as heroic, although some crew members have considered him as reckless.

Wikipedia: Piracy in Somalia
Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the Somali Civil War in the early 21st century. Since 2005, many international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization and the World Food Programme, have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy. Piracy has impeded the delivery of shipments and increased shipping expenses, costing an estimated $6.6 to $6.9 billion a year in global trade according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP). According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), a veritable industry of profiteers has also risen around the piracy. Insurance companies, in particular, have profited from the pirate attacks, as insurance premiums have increased significantly.

2013-10-17

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1 comment:

Lanthie Ransom said...

Haven't heard of this film before. I love Tom Hanks so will definitely make an effort to see it.