Director Paul Greengrass has brought to the big screen the tale of the 2009 hijacking of the US container ship, Maersk Alabama, by a crew of Somali pirates and the subsequent hostage taking of the Captain (Hanks) and the standoff that ensued.
After previously watching the low budget Danish film A Hijacking which recounts the hijacking by pirates of the Clipper Group vessel the CEC Future in 2008, and the tense, slow-paced drawn-out negotations, I was worried this film would go the other way and charge into a special-effects laden shoot out. I was pleased I was wrong.
Hanks’s and Greengrass’s preparations for the movie have paid off with much research into the issue of piracy and Hanks even spent time getting to know Captain Phillips, a veteran merchant mariner who found himself involved in the high-sea siege and taken off on a lifeboat with the pirates, subjected to mock executions and days without food and water in searing heat.
The movie, which was shot in open water using an identical ship – the underused Maersk Alexander – examines the relationship between Phillips and the Somali pirate captain Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and though Hanks loses control of the vessel, he maintains the moral high ground. In one scene Muse insists they are ‘fisherman’ who had their livelihoods stolen when foreigners depleted their stocks – but Hanks reminds him that fishermen do not go round killing people. The pirates are out to make a quick fortune, no matter what price they have to pay, and this is clearly evident as the film pans out.
It is a stark, thought-provoking and intense drama which deliberately avoids glamorising the act of piracy – it merely shows the terrorism that is involved and why anti-piracy measures are so vital today. It is also a brutal reminder of the risk seafarers have to take every day to move goods and commodities around the world.
I won’t spoil the ending for those who do not how the siege was broken, but I will admit to having a tear or two in my eyes as Hanks delivers the final performance of, what I consider to be, his most poignant role yet. If he doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for this role, I’ll eat my hat….
Captain Phillips goes on release in the US on Friday (11th October) and on 18th October in the UK.
By Samantha Giltrow