Directed by: Paul Greengrass
On 12 April 2009, the American cargo ship, The Maersk Alabama was hijacked at sea 240 nautical miles off the coast of Africa by four Somali pirates It was not only the sixth vessel in a week to be attacked by pirates (who had previously successfully extorted ransoms in the tens of millions of dollars from the various companies and nations that owned those ships, but it was also the first successful pirate seizure of a ship registered under the American flag since the early 19th Century. As it turned out, that hijacking was halted and the crew was successfully rescued without loss of American lives due to the intervention of the U.S. Navy and a team of SEALs. The story of the incident was reported in the book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea (2010), by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. This film has been adapted from that book.
When we first meet Captain Phillips (Hanks) he is at home preparing for his fateful voyage of April 2009. He is at home doing his last minute prep, getting his gear together, and heading out with his wife. She drops him off at the airport and he heads to Virginia to pick up the Maersk. Next time we see him, he and his crew of 18 are off the coast of Africa. Inter-cut with this we also see the village of the Somali pirates who are being exhorted by their local warlord to get off their lazy buts and go out to hijack another ship for him. Leading up to the hijacking of the Maersk there was a series of events involving piracy on the high seas.
To be sure, it is odd to consider that four men in a 20' skiff can hijack a tanker that large, but apparently it really isn’t that difficult as not only are the tanker are not allowed to be armed, but the pirates are that motivated. So with the crew of pirates aboard the Maersk the crew hid out in the engine room and eventually manage to turn the tables on the pirates and get them off the ship, only they take the Captain with them, and that is when the film’s tension truly ramps up as the pirates and Captain Philips are now trapped in the confined quarters of the escape skiff.
Once again Tom Hanks gives us a command performance in a film where we know the outcome and yet are kept fidgeting at the edge of our seat until the very end. This is a very good film, even though (as we learned later) all of the events that we know occurred many not have been all of the information available (as later reports have come in, Captain Philips was not only not quite a hero, but apparently something of a less nice guy than we may have originally thought. Plus there are apparently several members of the crew who are suing the Maersk Alabama’s holding company for some $50 Million.
Still, as this film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama's commanding officer, and the Somali pirate captain, Muse, who takes him hostage. Phillips and Muse are set on an unstoppable collision course when the Somali pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi) takes command of the ship placing Phillips' in danger.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.