Captain Phillips: High praise for adventure on the high seas

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comOctober 10, 2013 

Captain Philips is "based" on a true story. Somali pirates got worldwide headlines when they attacked the freighter, Maersk Alabama, in 2009. The ship was 145 miles off the coast of Somalia. The crew fought them to a standoff. Ship captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage on an escape pod and held captive for five days. Navy Seals captured the group leader, killed his crew onboard the craft and freed Phillips.

What's hardest about reviewing a biopic is picking out what's really true and what isn't. The movie tells us how the incident happened. Kind of. Much of it is changed to help with the story. What Captain Phillips doesn't tell you is that the good captain might not have been such a good captain.

Some history: Some crew members have publicly said Phillips isn't the hero he's been painted out to be. A few of them filed a lawsuit against Phillips and the cargo company. Phillips allegedly ignored instructions to stay farther out at sea and away from Somalia because of piracy dangers. Allegedly, the captain was in a hurry and took a shorter route to save money.

In his response, Phillips said the ship was in danger no matter where they were in the Indian Ocean.

Another point: The leader of the pirates ended up with a 30-some year sentence in a U.S. federal prison for his crime. What's ironic and what the film subtly points out, is that even though he's now a prisoner, his quality of life is probably a lot better now. Freedom in Somalia is a prison of a different kind.

Now on to the movie. Tom Hanks plays Phillips. Casting Hollywood's everyman as Phillips is inspired. Hanks gives a nicely toned-down, almost bland performance. Phillips' ordeal was incredibly tense. His life was constantly threatened from the time the pirates hit the ship until the resolution of the crisis. Hanks plays it perfectly. Once the Navy got involved and closed in on the pirates, the incident was not going to end happily. His portrayal of Phillips is that of a man who put his crew first but who also tried hard to save the lives of the doomed pirates.

The four pirates are played by Somali-American nonactors. All are very good, however, the scene stealer of the bunch is Barkhad Abdi, who plays the pirate leader Muse. A wisp of a man with large, sad eyes, Adbi's Muse is menacing in one scene and tragically human the next.

The negative: Captain Phillips is an excellent film and the tension is pretty good, but it is 30 minutes too long. At 134 minutes, director Paul Greengrass' (United 93 and the middle two Bourne films) movie engages in theft of another kind: time piracy.

Director: Paul Greengrass

Stars: Tom Hanks

Rated PG-13 for mature themes and violence. It is playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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