Not here to fish

This is my review of Captain Phillips [DVD] [2013].

Paul Greengrass is well-known for his dramatization of real-life events, in this case opting for a mainstream cinema action adventure format which may give scope for more dramatic licence than the constraints of a documentary to cover the topical theme of the threats from Somali pirates.

Their target is an American container ship, ironically loaded in part with food aid for Africa, under the command of the stern, courageous but also humane Captain Phillips, who in the midst of his personal trauma is capable of feeling compassion, even sympathy for the pirates. For, beneath the suspense and menace of the plot, lies the director's concern to show both sides of the question, understand the pressures which drive the pirates: poverty, resentment against foreign powers like America which they perceive as having taken resources from them, the tribal leaders/corrupt gang masters who force simple former fishermen to seize money through piracy, very little of which they get to keep for themselves. The two main characters are developed most fully: Phillips and the pirate leader Muse, violent when scared but clearly not innately so and capable of seeing the American captain's decency and natural powers of leadership. He reveals in a poignant moment that all he would really like to do is escape to a "better" life in the States. However, a combination of fear and chewing of the narcotic "khat" kindles the pirates' unpredictability, while the tight-deadlines and ruthlessness of the US rescuers add to the tension of the brew.

I was a little frustrated to be unable to hear what anyone was saying in much of the dramatic denouement, but overall this is an absorbing film which adds to one's understanding of a serious problem. It was fascinating to see the procedures followed in the attempt to shake off the pirates, although I was left wondering why all shipping off the Somali coast does not travel in convoys with 24/7 lookouts and powerful guns for defence.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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