Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2013. Scott Rudin Productions, Michael De Luca Productions, Trigger Street Productions. Screenplay by Billy Ray, based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days At Sea by Richard Phillips, Stephan Talty. Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. Produced by Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, Scott Rudin. Music by Henry Jackman. Production Design by Paul Kirby. Costume Design by Mark Bridges. Film Editing by Christopher Rouse. Academy Awards 2013. American Film Institute 2013. Golden Globe Awards 2013. Washington Film Critics Awards 2013.
A freighter off the shores of Somalia is overtaken by armed pirates in this fact-based story starring a superb Tom Hanks as the titular leader of the vessel. Paul Greengrass directs a tense action thriller that begins with a routine job assignment as Hanks leaves wife Catherine Keener (in an inexplicable cameo) to fly to Africa where he will board his ship. Piracy off the coast of Somalia is not an unknown occurrence at this point, so he is immediately suspicious when two fishing boats approach his vessel at high speed and even less surprised when, at close glance, they turn out to be armed. The unwelcome guests who come aboard are led by a charismatic, determined man (Barkhad Abdi, who is marvelous) who means business and doesn’t play games with our hero. Hanks, meanwhile, stows his crew in a low level of the ship in the hopes that they won’t be found, hoping to appease the villains with whatever is in the ship safe and avoid anyone getting harmed. Released not long after the excellent A Hijacking by Tobias Lindholm, this one is not quite as tense, but it is also not the indulgence in Air Force One heroics that its promotional material might suggest. Hanks begins and ends the movie as an ordinary man, and the nuance with which he does it, from the desperation to keep order to the heartbreaking release at the conclusion of the ordeal, is what the film wisely relies on for much of its energy. Paul Greengrass, in his awareness of how familiar we are with his Spartan editing style and hand-held intensity, wisely avoids pushing everything to maximum climax every chance he gets, rather making a film that is far more interesting for its process than for any kind of roller coaster excitement. The attempts to play fair by giving the criminals back stories (to avoid accusations of racist finger-pointing) are not fully successful, particularly as Greengrass is trying his best to make an apolitical film that is highly political in content: making a film with obvious good guys and bad guys, but showing us that the bad guys are people from a woeful lack of privilege compared to their opponents, is not going to mitigate the cushy American point of view that will bother many viewers. That said, it’s a solid drama with much to recommend it.