Richard Phillips (played by Tom Hanks) is a Sea Captain – he commands commercial cargo vessels all around the world – it’s what he knows and what he loves – almost as much as he loves his wife Andrea (by Catherine Keener) and his family. He’s getting a bit on in years now and the long weeks away at sea are getting harder to leave home for. Andrea drives him to the airport for his latest contract and he reluctantly but stoically leaves her behind to head across the globe to his work. He joins the US cargo ship, Maersk, in port on the African coast ready to sail through the Indian Ocean. This is “pirate” territory, but Phillips is aware of the dangers and with the ship’s First Mate, Murphy, (by Michael Chernus) he drills his crew regularly to make sure they’re as ready as they can be, even though they carry no weapons – and the risks are covered, should they encounter any difficulties. One morning, a vessel appears on the radar and Phillips gets an uneasy feeling. So he puts the crew on standby and watches as the blip on screen gets closer – it’s four heavily armed Somalis, led by their captain, Muse (by Barkhad Abdi) intent on capturing the ship and getting all the money and anything else they can. The crew of the Maersk take action to outrun or evade the pirates, but this is fruitless and they manage to get aboard. As a life-long Captain, Phillips will do everything he can to ensure the safety of his crew, including putting himself in severe danger – and that’s more likely than he wants to think about. But he’s been assured that there’s regular US military surveillance and the US Navy are in the area too, so surely it’s only a matter of time before they come to the aid of this unarmed freighter – stuck like a sitting duck in these pirate-infested seas?
When I think that this is a true story of an incident in 2009, I am impressed by the bravery of Captain Richard Phillips and his tenacity in trying to stop these pirates getting what they want – to the point of risking his own life. The production is good – much of the story focuses on the pirates and Phillips in close quarters and as a viewer it really feels like I’m there too – I can almost taste the salt on my face and smell the perspiration and anxiety in the vessel. As Phillips, Tom Hanks is very good – his performance is strong, authentic and highly emotional, you can feel some of what he feels – but not really imagine some of it, when you see what he must go through. The Somali pirates are frightening – they’re hysterical, unco-ordinated, disagree about their objectives – and this is a volatile mix in such a high pressure situation. The tension builds very well, particularly in the early scenes of the movie. However, to me, the whole thing is too long and drawn out – I’m not sure it needed to be. But it’s a good story. In 2014, it was nominated for several awards, including Academy Awards (Oscars) for Motion Picture of the Year; Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Well done.
Made in 2013. Directed by Paul Greengrass.