Films based on books always seem popular at our local cinema and the story of the hijacking of the cargo ship the MV Maersk Alabama in April 2009 was no exception. Based on a book written by the captain of the cargo vessel Richard Philips, A Captains Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangerous Days at Sea, and adapted for the screen by William ‘Billy’ Ray, best known for writing the screenplay for the Hunger Games (2012), it tells how four poverty stricken Somali fishermen between the ages of 17 and 19 manage to highjack the ship along with its crew of 20 and 17000 metric tons of cargo bound for Mombasa, Kenya.
As purely a docudrama, Captain Phillips (2013) is another exciting outing for the Surry born Paul Greengrass, director, screenwriter and former journalist who specialises in dramatisations of real life events for example Resurrected (1989), Bloody Sunday (2002), United 93 (2006) and 2010’s Green Zone. Strangely enough it was Ron Howard who was originally down to direct Captain Phillips and Greengrass was due to helm Rush (2013) but they ultimately swapped projects to the improvement of both movies I would suggest.
In probably what is the best role of his long career Tom Hanks, who plays Phillips, is superb and its his acting that gives this movie a tension that keeps its audience on the edge of it seat for over two hours. But also mention must be made of the Somali born actor Barkhad Abdi in his debut role as the charismatic leader of the fishermen and the new Captain of the hijacked cargo ship. Along with the wide screen cinematography by regular Ken Loach DoP Barry Ackroyd, and the battle of wits between the ‘boy’ and the middle-aged sea captain are worth the admission price alone. Obviously this movie will be compared with Tobies Lindholm’s A Hijacking (2012), which unlike Greengrass’s film is ‘not about an actual hijacking but about the people involved and how it affects them, the technicalities of negotiation and the monitory value of human life’. Each was shot on water and in real ships that gives both a special type of authenticity.
As usual with an American budgeted film it makes only minimal effort to explain why the Somali’s go to such extremes, concentrating on the ‘heroic’ actions of the ships Captain ‘although some crew members have considered him as reckless’ Various reports and several news sources have suggested that piracy off the Somalia coast is due in part to illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste along its remote shoreline by foreign vessels. In response to this the fishermen began forming armed groups to stop the foreign ships. But because of the unlawful actions, which severely restricted their ability to fish and earn a living, they were forced to look for an alternative income. By turning to piracy the fishermen believed ‘that they were protecting their fishing grounds and exacting justice and compensation for the marine resources stolen’.
|Tom Hanks with Richard Phillips.|