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'Captain Phillips' (review): A Struggle to Survive

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Real life, piracy on the high seas in the modern age is the story of six time Oscar nominated movie “Captain Phillips”. Inspired by true events, this movie has a little of everything action, drama and suspense. Following the 2009 hijacking and ransom of Captain Richard Phillips, he wrote a novel entitled “A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” which Columbia Pictures quickly obtained the screen rights for that same year. This movie has now received many nominations and brings the audience into the terrifying real world situation of pirates, their search for bounty and a strong captain’s will to survive.

Director Paul Greengrass, whose film credits include two of the “Bourne” movies and “United 93”, brings the story of Phillips to life. Tom Hanks delivers a powerful, moving representation of Captain Phillips as he goes from poised captain to desperate hostage trying to survive. Hanks, despite the many Oscar nominations the movie received, he failed to get one himself for his performance. First time actor, previous limo driver, Barkhad Abdi did receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, following his many previous award nominations for this role. The movie is a strong contender for Best Picture with a powerful story and well executed performances.

A “ripped from the headlines” movie, this is the dramatic representation of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking of the merchant mariner Captain Phillips who was taken hostage by pirates. Hard-working, honest Captain Phillips takes a risky job which goes around the coast of Africa. This movie builds in a slow and steady pace, allowing the audience to get to know a bit of all the players. Audiences see Captain Phillips and the crew as well as pirate leader, who takes Phillips hostage, Abduwali Muse.

Captain Phillips reviews news warnings about possible pirate activities in the area and decides to run some drills. Suddenly a drill becomes a “real world” situation and the crew is fighting to keep distance from pursuing pirates. The crew is able to lose the pirates for a while, until they continue pursuit. After losing the ship to the pursuing pirates, Captain Phillips tries to regain control and peacefully resolve the situation. As a good captain should, he offers his life for the protection of his crew. Muses’ men, the pirates, are armed with heavy weapons which causes the crew to doubt how best to proceed.

Insistent on getting money, the pirates will stop at nothing as they explore the ship. After injuring one of the pirates and causing them to separate, the crew is able to capture their leader Muse and bargain a trade for their own captain and ship. Audiences can speculate on the intelligence of the captain and crew, as they execute the trade and Phillips is forced into the lifeboat that the pirates will use to escape, with the pirates saying that they will return him after they get their own leader. Phillips of course is not returned safely to the crew and is taken hostage by the pirates believing they will get a huge pay day from the Americans to get their captain back.

The most moving and gripping moments are those which are captured in the lifeboat. Hanks delivers a moving, heartbreaking portrayal of the struggle Phillips must have experienced during his time as a hostage. Likewise, the audience is brought into the pirates’ world and all the struggle of them being able to survive. We learn, Muse, the leader, hijacked a Greece ship and received six million dollars from that, yet is still needed to get more money, simply because in their world there cannot be enough money. They live day to day struggling to survive in often illegal ways. Life in other parts of the world aren’t quite so black and white and though there is a better way to live, it may not be possible or as easy as one might imagine. We feel the struggle as they attempt to maintain control of their emotions, the situation and each other.

The situation comes to a head as Navy SEALS come in to make sure the lifeboat doesn’t reach the Somali shoreline. Tense moments and edge of your seat action, brings audiences towards the climatic conclusion of who will make it out of the situation alive. We feel each second click down and the back and forth questioning of will or won’t Captain Phillips survive.

Although upon initial release, this movie didn’t make as many waves as one would expect of a future Oscar contender, it sure has audiences and critics taking notice. This is the kind of movie that resonates with audiences and takes real life situations and puts it in your face to see as the drama unfolds. We see the reality and struggle from both sides of the situation. We feel and fight alongside Captain Phillips as he struggles to stay alive as well as we get a glimpse into the world of piracy and how this is a reality in parts of the world. “Captain Phillips” is a movie that may or may not win big on Oscar night, yet it has already made a lasting Hollywood impression. Be sure to pick it up this week on DVD or see it in theaters as they re-release it in preparation of the Oscars.