Saturday, October 26, 2013

Captain Phillips

A factual action adventure tale 
serves as an allegory for world conflict

     Paul Greengrass continues his run as the best action director of movies that are either based on actual events or feel as if they could be.  His Bourne movies felt like an update of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, not the glamorous
superhero he became in the movies.  United 93 imagined what happened during that historic and tragic flight from final phone conversations.
Captain Phillips is based on Richard Phillips’ book about the events of April 9 – 12, 2009, when Somali pirates overtook the merchant ship Alabama Maersk.

     Although there is a current court case concerning the veracity of Phillips’ account, the movie treats it as factual and this is necessary to mesh with Greengrass’s style.  His use of hand-held cameras is second to none.  He achieves the sense that this is a documentary, even though the viewer knows it is nothing of the kind, because of the off-kilter camera, the very ‘real’ looking sets that have been intricately designed and cleverly lit so that they appear natural, and actors that behave with understatement even in the moments of highest tension.  The casting mixes stars with wonderful journeymen performers like Chris Mulkey, Yul Vasquez, and Max Martini, and the newcomers playing the pirates.

Tom Hanks Confronting Barkhad Abdi
     Tom Hanks, one of the most famous actors on the planet, is perfect for Greengrass because he can seem ordinary even while pulling off a heroic act.  He’s the white knight for our American superpower as it is attacked by representatives of the Third World.  There are two significant exchanges:  in the first couple of minutes, Captain Phillips and his wife, played by Catherine Keener, talk about how their son needs to be more competitive and how the world is more difficult for their children’s generation than for their own; towards the end of the movie, Captain Phillips says to Abduwali Muse, played with stark ferocity by Barkhad Abdi that they’re not fishermen, but kidnappers, and Muse basically replies that he had no choice.  Career advice means little when there are no careers and when you’ll either starve or be killed by your boss for failing to bring back the stolen goods.  

Dexter Watches as the Somali Pirates Board the Ship
     Muse has the chance to take $30,000 and get away, but one of his team gets greedy for more when he sees what the ship provides its crew. For those viewers who can’t understand why they don’t leave with a reasonable amount of money, we only have to ask ourselves why so many Americans seem so desperate to play the lottery or casino.  There’s a greater disparity between rich and poor here than there has been in eighty years, but it seems somewhat paltry when comparing the American crew – all overweight and mostly white with the Somalians – all in need of greater nourishment and all black.  It’s the Navy Seals who look like the physical ideal of the superhero and behave with competence, cool, and guts in resolving the issue.

However, this issue is the tip of the iceberg of the greater one of the global conflict between haves and have-nots and the northern versus southern hemispheres – a growing concern based on economics than the historic east versus western hemispheres based upon political philosophy.  After all,
philosophy can only be engendered by the educated middle-class that doesn’t have to consider hunger as a chronic condition.

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