“Captain Phillips” Offers
Profile In Courage
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
You may remember the headlines, a US cargo ship captured by Somali pirates in April of 2009. The ship’s captain, a longtime merchant marine named Richard Phillips, was being held captive in a 28-foot lifeboat by four pirates.
This was the first successful pirate seizure of a US ship since the 19th Century when Blackbeard and Captain Kidd were plying their nefarious trade off America. In this case, the MV Maersk Alabama was captured in the Gulf of Aden, 240 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, when it was boarded by armed men. After some resistance, the pirates wound up holding the ship’s captain at gunpoint inside a lifeboat.
“I did not foresee a good ending,” recalls Captain Phillips, “because I saw the determination that the pirates had, and they weren’t going to give me up. I was hoping for a rescue, but I thought the chances were slim-to-none that that would be successful.”
An event like this, you know it had to become a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks. “Captain Phillips” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.
Director Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Legacy”) says he sees Phillips as the quintessential Everyman: “An ordinary man in an extraordinary situation, kidnapped on the high seas . . . Can the Navy get there in time? What’s he going to do in a confined space with four men who are intent on taking him back to Somalia, ransoming him to the highest bidder?”
Hanks makes a brave Captain Phillips, but it is the leader of the pirates who all but steals the show (not to mention the cargo ship). The pirate named Muse is played by Barkhad Abdi, an unknown Somali-American with no real acting experience. He and three buddies answered a casting call, mainly hoping to get to see Tom Hanks. Abdi got the role but didn’t meet Hanks until months later when the cameras were rolling.
“The first time I actually see Tom is the first time that I see him in the movie,” says Abdi.
Tom Hanks recalls that first meeting, the scene when the pirates take over the ship. “Boom! Next thing we know some very scary guys were pointing guns in our faces, screaming at us.”
“They came through that door and they just had power and energy and intensity and commitment,” the director describes the scary scene. “I could see in Tom’s face he was in it for real.”
“It was a pretty terrifying and exciting moment all at the same time,” admits Hanks. “I found them so convincing that my lower lip began to tremble a little bit and the hair was standing on the back of my neck . . . You cannot believe your eyes that someone is that skinny and that scary and that fast and has that much malevolence and seriousness in their eyes.”
As Abdi -- playing the pirate named Muse -- approached Hanks, he ad-libbed what was to be the powerful line in the movie: “Look at me. I’m the captain now.”
Barkhad Abdi was born in Somalia but has lived in Minneapolis since he was 14. He understands the global conflict between haves and the have-nots.
In real life, US naval warships surrounded the vessel and took out three of the four pirates with coordinated SEAL sniper shots. The surviving pirate leader, Abduwali Abdiqadir Muse, was sentenced to 34 years in a US prison in 2011.
Phillips was hailed as a hero for serving himself up as a hostage to save his crew. President Obama feted him at the White House to honor his courage.
Despite his ordeal, fourteen months later Phillips quietly shipped back out to sea. But now his ships carry three to four armed guards onboard as a precaution.
Ironically, the shipping line itself has been hit with a $50-million lawsuit – brought by the very crewmen whose lives Captain Phillips is credited with saving. They claim he put them at risk by ignoring more than seven warnings that the Maersk Alabama was too deep into the danger zone.