Monday, 4 November 2013
Can a film sustain an even pace and then build to a climax after 2 hours and 15 minutes? Yes it can. Director Paul Greengrass delivers a tale of high drama set on the seas off the Horn of Africa that trades in the currency of the disparity between this world's haves and the have-nots.
I'm not giving anything away I hope when I say the story-line is straightforward and 'based on' a true story of Somali pirates hijacking a Maersk container ship en-route from Oman to Mombasa. The title character commands the container ship and is played by Tom Hanks who delivers one of his best performances in years. The central axis of the story is the relationship between Phillips and the leader of the pirates Muse (Barkhad Abdi).
The film gives a little insight into the anarchy that rules Somalia and the demands of the Warlords on former fishing communities for their young men to turn to piracy and deliver multi-million dollar ransoms back to the Warlords. The gulf between the size and technology of the pirates boats in comparison to the container ship could hardly be wider. The anarchic pirates living in huts in the dunes with few possessions contrast garishly with the ordered opulence and automation of the container ship and its cargo of luxury consumer goods. Fuelled by khat (a stimulant drug derived from a shrub) and adrenalin, the pirates shoot and force their way aboard waving their AK-47s at anything that moves.
The screenplay explores the tensions between the thoughtful and quiet family man of Phillips and the excitable and apparently greed motivated pirates. However, the character of Muse shows an awareness of his situation and he repeatedly articulates the desire to make enough money to travel to the USA. He should be careful of what he wishes for. In typical hostage-drama style, the film documents the strain and fickle nature of the relationship between captors and captive. Phillips cleverly tries to win the sympathy and trust of some of his captors whilst setting others against one another.
I remember this story in the news when it happened and that it was brought to end by American military intervention. A further gulf between the resources of the pirates and the captive's homeland is demonstrated by the range of craft, technology and special forces that are deployed to bring the drama to its climax.
I was left feeling very uneasy about the professionalism with which the US military went about its business - for them, just another day at the office. I guess that's how it has to be but I'm not sure that I feel okay about such people protecting my best interests so anonymously, vicariously and without any form of consultation with me. Perhaps I am simply naive. Along with Zero Dark Thirty this is another film that shows the USA's self-appointed role as world policeman where no territory or target is off-limits. I am not advocating a world ruled by anarchic Warlords or holding out for some utopian neverneverland. It is clear that the world-order is going through a period of realignment in these present decades. How much longer the USA will be allowed to act at will around the world is becoming a moot point - especially in the wake of the damaging wikileaks revelations that seem to have no end. What would be worse I fear, would be for the USA to return to isolationism and have no dialogue at all with other nations. No-one ever said global politics was an easy place to inhabit whilst maintaining integrity.
Although I would have liked more backstory on why the Somalis exchanged fishing for piracy - a chance to enter into their world a little more sympathetically - I'm sure Captain Phillips has had his fill of Somalis and seen enough. As a film I felt it was well paced and maintained an excellent level of tension throughout. The acting - especially from the two leads is top class and worthy of Oscar nomination. Am I happy that people like Captain Phillips and his crew put their lives in danger simply to transport my consumer goods to me - no! Education must be the first step on a road to an alternative scenario and perhaps this film will inspire some to begin that journey - let's hope so. I'll give this film 8/10.