Captain Phillips is based on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips who was kidnapped by pirates from the Maersk Alabama in 2009. Tom Hanks plays the titular captain in a tense thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie. I knew it was about pirates hijacking a container ship but that was about it. The film starts quite slowly and builds up the tension nicely. Once the hijacking is under way the tension is maintained well as the balance of power shifts back and forth between the crew to the pirates.
There are some mild spoilers, especially if you don’t know the real life story.
Starting with the preparations of loading the ship and getting ready to leave harbour and the day to day duties of running a container ship we get a sense of the normal routines that are involved in running a ship. Much of the filming was done on board a ship supplied by Maersk which is the same as the Alabama which was hijacked in 2009.
It also follows the pirates preparing to head out to capture ships for their warlord bosses. I think that this part of the film is supposed to be demonstrating to us that the pirates are doing what they do under duress for the benefit of bosses who take all the money they raise and treat them badly. While this comes across a little in the pirate sequences, they are mainly loud involve a lot of posturing and shouting in Somali and to my mind distract a little from the main point of the film. Perhaps if they introduced the characters of the pirates a bit better then it would have been a useful way of making us care a bit more about them.
When the pirates get to the ship, the scenes of the crew preparing to repel them are well done and interesting. The crew is not military and have no weapons to defend the ship so there is thankfully a lack of the usual Hollywood heroics that usually blight this kind of film. There is no lack of bravery from the characters but it did not descend into the kind of Under Siege style nonsense that I was dreading.
At points the crew does take actions to fight off or discourage the pirates which has mixed results. This is handled well by the director and doesn’t get too out of hand. I don’t know anything about what really happened so I’m not sure whether these actions accurately reflect the real world events the film is based on.
The real intensity of the film comes once Captain Phillips is alone with the pirates, having convinced them to abandon the ship in a lifeboat. We watch as the relationship between the pirates as a group and their relationship with Phillips deteriorates in the enclosed high pressure environment of the lifeboat. The real genius of this film is the relationships between the characters of the pirates and Captain Phillips and the claustrophobic nature of the lifeboat. So it is a bit of a shame when finally the US navy turns up and starts to negotiate with the pirates. From my point of view it would have been much better to only see the navy operations from the point of view of the pirates or Phillips but we see a lot of the behind the scenes build up from the navy point of view which I find distracts a little from the human elements. It is still quite well done and dramatic though.
In the end this film was dramatic and exciting and made me think about the events and look into the history in more detail.