Pirates named “Blackbeard”, big men with beards and cutlasses cutting a swath as they board galleons, stealing gold doubloons and anything else shiny to hand.
Long gone, consigned to the history books?
Change the protagonist to a thin desperate Somalian man named “Muse”, with a motley crew of young men in high speed skiffs, armed with AK-47’s and a penchant for hostage treasure and we are bang up to date.
Instead of three masted treasure laden galleons, the rather more prosaic merchant cargo ship is the target, if the vessel is American flagged, all the better for the ransom demand.
Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is an ordinary man, attempting to make ends meet at home and worrying how his kids will find their way in the world. His day job is commanding the American flagged MV Maersk Alabama. Effectively a delivery truck on the high sea’s, moving goods from here to there.
In this case, that journey traverses arguably the most dangerous sea in the world, not weather related but with the inherent risk of boarding by pirates operating out of Somalia, “run” by lawless warlords.
Captain Phillips checks the ship, kicks the tyres and sets off, safe in the knowledge that the risks are low and the maritime emergency team is ready to protect and assist if required. The crew are less enthusiastic, he calmly reminds them they signed up for the trip, if they want out, he can sign papers when they arrive at Mombasa.
Captain Phillips is a decent man, looks after his crew, does not want trouble and tries to always act in a professional manner. Once Pirates are encountered he takes initial steps that may be enough to repel the boarders.
Once the later scenes unfold, “Muse” (Barkhad Abdi) proclaims “I’m the captain now”. Using the moniker of “Irish” to describe the demoted captain, they search for the ships crew who have been well drilled for just such an eventuality.
The film plays out as a cat and mouse game with high stakes, with Phillips presented with situations he cannot rationalise in the usual way. He wants to help, negotiate and find a way that “Muse’s” repeated mantra “everything will be ok”, will actually come to pass.
When offered the safe contents of $30,000 the new captain declares, “Do I look like a beggar?”
A decent man is out of his depth in such circumstances and Director Greengrass puts his leading man through the ringer, taking his nail bitten audience along for the ride. Both protagonists are completely believable, there is sympathy on both sides with a screenplay that does not pander to either predicament or attempt to preach in anyway.
Phillips is just doing his job, as are the pirates in their own way, each with their own bosses and performance expectations. Nobody is likely to win and real world sentiments are perfectly judged by both director and screenwriter.
As always, Hanks anchors the film with a superb every-man performance but is comfortably matched by the first time performer Abdi, who in physical appearance and acting ability, personifies who you might expect in such a situation.
The later scenes are intense, with closing situations that stretch naturalistic acting ability to the limit. There is nothing to dislike here if the subject matter interests you and it should, as here is a metaphor for the wider world and the harsh new realities we all face.
It is clear from early on, that “everything will really not be all ok”
Highly recommended thriller, based on the true story of the first American cargo ship taken by pirates in two hundred years.
Intense, completely believable and with pitch perfect performances from all involved. Coupled with an intelligent director and screenplay, this represents one of the best films of 2013.