The best thing about Paul Greengrass’ new action thriller Captain Phillips is that it is actually about Captain Phillips. No, this is not a joke.
Phillips is an adept ship captain for the huge shipping conglomerate Maersk. He assumes his role aboard a freighter docked in Oman bound for Kenya, and this route is straight through the Gulf of Aden, past Somali, the most pirate infested piece of ocean in the world. I assume most viewers entering the theater already know that this film is about pirates attacking a ship. The film does fulfill this expectation in the first act, but from there everything that happens is as unpredictable as is possible to be unpredictable.
First of all, kudos to the trailer’s producers and marketers for selling this film as a conflict totally based upon on the hijacking of a ship. While this is the first major conflict of the film, it is not the only one. As the ship’s hijacking unfolds, and errors occur, a whole tangential series of events and complications are created. Greengrass takes these tangents to a place we never could have expected, and all of a sudden we have an unexpected thrilling crisis of a film.
Overall it’s a simple story, but it’s so creative in its originality and unfolding that I was on the edge of my seat the whole film. Since it’s based on a true story I guess Greengrass shouldn’t get all the credit. A lot of the credit must go to one the two scriptwriters, Richard Phillips. He adapted this script from the book that was based on true events.
Second of all, there is a storyline involving Somalians and the world they come from. It was a great idea to include this. We are shown that Somali pirates are not just pure evil, but are in many ways forced into the acts of piracy they undertake. In a extremely revealing scene Phillips and Muse, the head pirate, reveal how higher levels bureaucracy influences both their lives. They both have bosses to answer to.
In a moment of cinematic excellence, Greengrass actually makes the viewer feel sympathy for Muse despite the fact that he is a maniacal, automatic weapon toting killer who hijacks ships. Sir Greengrass, very well done.
There has been a concern over this film’s release though, and this raises the question that all art needs to consider: do the events of the film/artwork that declare themselves as true have an obligations to actually be true? Or can anyone declare anything and make into a work in itself?
According to The Guardian, apparently Captain Phillips himself was not the hero he is portrayed as in the film. He was a notoriously difficult captain to work for, and by sailing too close to Somalia, some say he was the cause of the whole incident. Debate aside, very good film.