Captain Phillips: Finding Something in the Nothingness of the Vast Human Sea

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Movies

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It isn’t the beginning of Captain Phillips, the true story of a cargo freighter hijacked by Somali Pirates in 2009, with its attention to detail that makes it great.  Nor the tension fraught middle with its battle of wits and occasional political debates about dispossession and possession, between have-nots and sometime-haves, it’s avoidable tragedies and hallow victories.  No,  It’s the end.  The five minutes when Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips lets down his resolve and allows himself time to cry, to be shaken, stirred emotionally and ultimately start to be healed.

The director, Paul Greengrass abandons for the most part his trademark shaky action cam for close-ups that alternate between Phillips and the leader of the Somali Pirates Muse (played with wiry intensity by Somali American immigrant Barkhad Abdi).  Greengrass gives up some agility and poseur realism to gain both a sense of claustrophobia and intimacy between captor and hijacker. That is, until the military option arrives to hijack the plot into shades of tragedy, moral valor and the inevitably efficient rescue performed by a superpower exerting its imperialistic rights. 

The battle between normal Joe American and normal Somali can’t exist on a personal level before national honor politics kills the debate and all hopes for an individual solution.   Greengrass makes us intimately aware of the mini-tragedy of Muse’s not seeing the outs that are there and Phillip’s inability to save his abductor’s soul from the sin of misplaced hopes and allegiances.   The short view is swallowed up by the long view, the need to preserve national honor, to find and wait for the moment for the perfect kill shot.  If you feel anything else, cry and keep it to yourself. 

Still, I can’t help but to admire how Greengrass almost seamlessly molds the contours of a story that leaps from vast ship to small covered life raft to big bad world solution and back to small victory and personal healing. Getting to that final close-up and intimate end makes Captain Phillips Greengrass’ most intimate and accessible film.  

Captain Phillips gets a B+ from me.  

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