Directed by: Paul Greengrass |Written by: Billy Ray  |Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed

Rating: 8/10


The first time I heard about this film was in my shipping law class last year. My professor, Dr Irwin Ooi is a maritime expert plus shipping nerd. “Go see the film,” said him, though he himself has yet to do so. In all honesty, I am not a sea person. I have never traveled in a ship before (unless you consider a ferry as one but I guess that’s a no) and swimming is not my hobby. I generally don’t like being wet (except in certain circumstances) and I don’t like being super isolated from any living proof, as one would surely experience while traveling in a ship. Like my mother, I prefer my feet to touch the ground.

Captain Phillips, a film based on a true story of MV Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009, is intense and nerve-wrecking. It starts quite humbly – we meet Captain Phillips, a normal middle-age man who works as a captain for liner shipping company. He was supposed to captain a ship that carried cargos from Oman to Kenya. A normal daily job a maritime guy would expect. But then, he knew the ship had to go past the Somali sea, which is rampant for piracy. He took reasonable measures – conducting security drills and instructing his officers to lock and secure the gates on board. However, the pirates did get on the ship anyway by the time the crew managed to hide in the engine room. Then, the suspense began. Four young Somali men – skinny, tall and brash – with machine guns in their arms against twenty maritime workers who had no weapon aside from small knives with them. The focal point and perhaps the inspirational part of the film are the captain’s continuous confrontation and subtle negotiations with them whilst waiting help from the US Navy. He knew that they had the weapons and they could shoot him but he also knew that all they wanted was money. 

The ship, MV Maersk Alabama
The ship, MV Maersk Alabama

I think we can all agree that Tom Hanks is a good actor. There is not much doubt in that department. He has this ordinary look to him that makes his acting very humane and familiar to us. We feel as if that could have happen to anybody. Any captain handling a ship in any part of the world. But the highlight of the film is of course, other than the ship itself, are the four actors who played the Somali pirates.


Barkhad Abdi won a BAFTA for his role, deservingly so (though I do wonder why was Jared Leto not nominated?). He was a first time actor who played the leader of the pirate gang, Muse. Even though he appeared to be young, his eyes told a different story. In the beginnings of the film, he was an ambitious man trying to prove himself capable of hijacking a big ship. The first time Captain Phillips saw him as his gang took control of the control room, there was confidence and arrogance on his face as he said – “I am the captain now.” 

That line should be nominated for the Best Line In A Film About Ship Hijacking Like Ever!

I think the reason why people are so impressed with his acting is that he did not have to utter much to convey his emotions. His stare and facial gestures were more than enough. The untrustworthy glances he threw at the captain, the cruelty in his eyes and the slight hopelessness that dawned upon him once he realized the US Navy had taken control of the situation. He was a small man fighting against a giant power by the end of the film. That aspect made us empathized with his situation though it was not detailed much in the film. The story did not tell us what made Muse such a man that he was. But I think all of us can take a wild guess – poverty and desperation. A scene was quite obvious in pointing that out. The captain asked, “surely there must be something else other than being fishermen and kidnapping people.” Muse glanced at him and replied, “maybe in America, captain, maybe in America.”

As my other professor would say, “poverty is the most corrupt of corrupting power.”

930353 - Captain Phillips

Which would, of course, lead us to the question of who was to blame in this mess? Looking at the bigger economic picture, certainly we are aware of how some poor countries are always being put in a disadvantaged situations against the superpower countries. If we are to be the people of that countries, being raised in a situation of no hope, perhaps we would also end up in similar fates. Nevertheless, a crime is a crime. There is no other way around it. Fact is, they did hijack a ship. They did kidnap a person. They did endanger lives. 

The most memorable scene for me, though, was near the end of the film. Muse had been captured by the US Navy under the pretense of negotiation, leaving his three friends and the captain in the life boat. Once the Navy snipers got clearance to shoot the three friends, they did it in mere seconds. It happened so fast. Within a blink of an eye, the three Somali youths were dead, their bloods smeared all over the captain who was tied and blindfolded. Upon being handcuffed in the Navy ship, Muse asked the soldiers, “what about my friends? You shot them?” to which they replied with a yes. Without so much of a tear, he knew he was defeated and his freedom was practically over. He committed a crime but somehow, in the audiences’ hearts, we somehow wish that he did not because we knew some villains did not become villains because they want to, but because they had no other choice based on the situations they were in.


The scene that almost brought tears to my eyes is of course the scene where the captain, who had just been rescued, was taken to the doctors on board of the Navy ship for treatment. Still in shock, he could only manage to utter a few sentences to the doctor in charge before breaking down into tears. It was the most amazing emotional wreckage you will ever see from Mr Tom Hanks, as he proved that crying devastatingly needs not involve crying lots of tears. 

The film, ultimately, makes me want to explore the genre of men and women doing their ordinary jobs and in certain exceptional circumstances, are forced to face pressures and conflicts. Real life experiences, mixed with the wonders on cinematic dramas, can do wonders to the heart. 



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