By Pat Wolford (Sarasota, Florida)
Captain Phillips

 

How could a small Somali fishing boat capture a container ship 300 miles off the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden? We found out when we saw the true story of Captain Phillips. The movie is riveting, realistic and intense. Captain Phillips is riveting with a lot of tension building from the beginning with the Somali men arguing about who was going to go in the boats to pirate the ship (English subtitles). Then a practice drill on board Captain Phillips’ ship turns into the real thing. Even when the Somali pirates are boarding the ship with a small iron ladder, you kind of want them to succeed. Then in the final scenes, you wonder how Captain Phillips is going to get out of such a bad situation, as you see the impression from a gun meshed into his forehead. The Navy’s involvement has high drama and you just want them to “shoot, shoot!”

Captain Phillips is realistic, with a not so snappy Captain, chatting with his wife about their adult children and bringing photos of his kids on the ship. It is an easy going atmosphere before the arrival of the pirates. Too easy. What is really impressive is how realistic the Somali pirates are portrayed while on Eyl Beach, north of Mogadishu, as well on the ship and lifeboat. The Somali villains are erratic and irrational throughout the movie. No one else can accurately portray a Somali. It takes a Somali to be a Somali, and the Somalis in this movie are real. Barkhad Abdi, the main Somali character, is beholden by the local crime bosses (who make the money off of pirating) to choose a crew of pirates. Abdi (who is from Minnesota, along with the other Somali actors) is able to show many emotions, but not through his face. One wonders what is he going to do next-and, of course, it is unpredictable.

There was the intensity of the Somalis, all talking at once at a high shrill sound, arguing, and asking, “Why you pick him from another village?!”, which is common in their tribal society. The beach scene is chaotic and dangerous, when the Somalis are passionately talking about who would be chosen to go on the raid. Later in the film, the Somalis use khat, a drug used by some Somalis to keep awake. You can see the effect it has on their decision making at the end of the movie. Tom Hanks, who portrays Captain Phillips, changes from an easy-going captain, to one trying to save his crew and then his life. The movie ups the drama when impressive U.S. Navy ships and the SEALS move in. This makes Oscar nominations, as well as being proud to be an American.

What are the dichotomies in the movie? The clash of world views and culture. Captain Phillips said the ship is delivering food aid; Abdi nonchalantly replies, “The U.S. like to bring food”. Captain Phillips expresses concern for a young pirate with glass embedded in his foot, but to the pirates, “It didn’t matter.” There was no pity. Abdi cajoled, joked and threatened Captain Phillips, by saying, “I love America too”, or “I will kill all you.”, or “We are the coast guard, we to help you.” Even when Abdi kept repeating, “Everything OK, be easy.” he knew it was untrue. Desperation, hunger and fear fueled their efforts. The Somali War Lords are the ones who get the money, while young men like Abdi do the dirty and dangerous work. Abdul says he wants to go to America. He went, but not the way he had hoped.

Rating: 5 out of 5 khat-for realism

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