Captain Phillips on surface level may appear to be only the dramatic retelling of the heart-pounding thriller that was the 2009 hijacking of the US container ship Maersk Alabama. However, through the distinctive lens of director Paul Greengrass, the myriad effects and undertones of globalization are portrayed in this gripping action film.
The film focuses on the captain of the Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and the captain of the Somali pirates, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who attacks the ship. As they find themselves on an unstoppable collision course for each other, 145 miles off the coast of Somalia, they will both fall victim to powers and forces out of their control.
After the boarding of the Alabama by the pirates, the crew hides throughout the ship while Phillips tries to distract the pirates and save his crew. Phillips inevitably gets taken hostage by the four-pirate band on the Alabama’s lifeboat as they escape, separating him from his crew.
Phillips remains in the lifeboat for several days while the US Navy attempts to liberate him. While on the lifeboat Phillips talks with the pirates and their characters are revealed.
The film ends with Phillips’ rescue, the execution of three of the pirates, and Muse’s arrest.
The action and story are incredibly deserving of critical acclaim, yet underlying them all is a commentary on humanity. The film leaves you with a conflicting feeling as you are begin to sympathize with the pirates.
Particularly Elmi (Mahat Ali), who is only 16 and is almost portrayed as a victim of bad circumstance. A child whose innocence is stolen from him as he is thrown into the brutal and unforgiving life of piracy. The reality displayed by the movie is that these are not ruthless and bloodthirsty pirates, but rather are just troubled people, just like Phillips and his crew.
The inner turmoil felt by the pirates, despite the air of callousness they put on, is clearly visible on their faces to the audiencece.
Large movement in the past century on a geopolitical and economic scale have lead to inhibition of growth of undeveloped nations such as Somalia. This has had drastic effects on the people, and in the case of Captain Phillips forced them to commit acts of piracy to survive, support their village and families, as well as satisfy warlords.
With this perspective in mind, Muse’s attack on the US Maersk Alabama can almost appear to be a lashing out at imperial America by the unfortunate bearers of the system they profiteer.