Given that Captain Phillips [IMDB Link] starred Tom Hanks (who in my opinion is probably one of the most bankable actors of our age) and that it was based on a real life incident of Somali pirates hijacking a merchant liner off the Horn of Africa, I had to catch this movie when it hit Indian theatres. And man, was that the right decision or what.
Based on true events that occurred in 2009, the plot deals with how a small band of Somali pirates led by Abduwali Muse (pronounced Moo-see) hijacked the Maersk Alabama and took its captain, Richard Phillips hostage in the Indian Ocean. And although the movie has been directed by Paul Greengrass (of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum fame), the movie has no trappings of either of these Hollywood blockbuster movies and stays true to the book authored by Captain Phillips detailing his ordeal as a hostage.
During a routine voyage of the ship between Oman and Mombasa, the Maersk Alabama is targeted by the Somali pirates to be hijacked. Despite the initial attempts by the Captain and his crew to prevent the pirates, the pirates led by Muse end up coming aboard and taking control of the ship. Based on the Captain’s instructions the entire crew barring the Captain himself and two others hide themselves in the Engine Room of the ship which proves to be the turning point as far as the hijacking itself is concerned.
While searching the ship for crew, Muse gets captured himself by the crew and this sets in motion the chain of events which culminates in Captain Phillips ending up as a hostage of Muse and his band of three pirates on a lifeboat. The rest of the movie deals with how Muse, his crew and Captain Phillips navigate the next three odd days on the lifeboat while the situation around them develops into a full blown military engagement.
I am not going to give any spoilers here, but given that Captain Phillips survived the hostage ordeal to write a book about his experiences, the audiences can clearly guess as to how it ended. What transpired between when he was taken a hostage and when the movie ends is something that you will have to see for yourself.
What I loved about this plot was the subtle interplay of the power exchanges between the two sides, the pirates and Phillips. Initially when the ship manages to evade the pirates, the power balance is clearly tilted on Phillips’ side, and then when Muse boards the ship and gently tells Phillips that “From now on, I am Captain” it is clear that the equations have changed. Subsequently when Muse is captured and is used as a pawn for the pirates to leave the Maersk Alabama, Phillips seems to have taken control again, but then in the next five minutes the tables are turned. And this is not all, there are more of these power shifts during the rest of the movie as well, and they make interesting food for thought.
I am not going into Tom Hanks’ wonderful performance which will probably earn him an Academy Award nomination this year as me talking about his acting prowess would be an exercise in futility. I could devote an entire post to how well he has conveyed his emotions and the subtle changes in expressions which convey thoughts and feelings where dialogs are not at all necessary. I personally don’t think anybody would have done justice to this particular character the way Tom Hanks has. His performance in this movie could easily be the only reason to watch this movie even if it didn’t quite have the wonderful script it did. Watch out for his performance in the last ten odd minutes of this movie to understand what I am talking about.
The surprise package comes in the form of Barkhad Abdi essaying the character of Abduwali Muse. His physical attributes (skinny lanky frame, a moderately disproportionate head which is a little big considering the rest of his body), his amazingly expressive eyes, the accent with which he delivers his dialogs, are just mind-blowing. Not for a moment would audiences be able to believe that this is just an actor playing a role, it was more like a pirate who had agreed to play the role on screen. And that is how convincing he was as Muse.
The character itself is not menacing or threatening, but Muse clearly comes across as a kid who is trying to prove himself and to his people that he deserves to be a pirate in the first place. He clearly brings out the fact that in the high seas piracy hierarchy, the guys who actually hijack a ship are the smallest fish. The only guys who see the big money are the guys at the very top. And the fact that this mission went awfully wrong for Muse, his frustrations at not being able to see it through, his aspiration to go to America, all of these are wonderfully brought out by Abdi on screen. This is one guy to watch out for, because in my opinion if given the right characters, this actor can prove to be more than competent.
Despite the fact that this movie runs for a little more than 2 hrs, and there’s not too much action happening on screen in the form of gun battles, action sequences, etc, the fact that the audience stays riveted to the screen clearly illustrates the prowess of the actors and the strength of the screenplay itself. Do not miss this movie, as you would have missed out on a really good experience.