Movie Review: Captain Phillips

Captain PhillipsI get up leisurely every morning and go on my seven-minute-commute to the office, where is spend the day walking back and forth between offices and conference rooms, and alternating between phone calls and emails.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) lives in a ranch house in rural Vermont and when he goes to work, he packs a large duffel bag and his wife drives him in their minivan to the airport. He boards a plane to the middle east, then a freighter, the Maersk Alabama, where he is captain for a trip around the horn of Africa and then down the east coast of the continent.

The immense difference in cultures and environment is staggering. This becomes even more apparent when the movie switches to a destitute Somali fishing village where village elders in rags assemble crews for pirate missions to extort “millions” from shipping vessels. Thongs of young men line up, most of them just barefoot boys. Only the most lucky ones get to go. They set out in little skiffs outfitted with rickety outboard motors and carrying rusty ladders, some extra fuel and plastic jugs, and – machine guns.

They target freight ships and try to board them, hold the crew hostage for ransom money in the millions.

Captain Phillips notices blips on radar of two skiffs following him at a distance of a couple of miles. He follows procedure. He informs the authorities and the military about his situation, and then prepares the ship for evasive maneuvers.

The pirates try to force their way on board by catching up to the ships. The ships are completely unarmed with comparatively small crews of 28 men. The only defenses they have are fire hoses aimed down on all sides, and the speed and bulk of the massive ships.

By spraying bullets up at the men, and damaging some of the fire hoses, the pirates eventually gain access to the ship. Now there are four armed men against a crew of 28, using terror by threatening execution of hostages to gain advantage with the goal of eventually negotiating for ransom money.

Things get out of hand quickly, and the drama unfolds as the pirates leave the ship on a lifeboat with the $30,000 from the ship’s safe, which is all they had with them, and with Captain Phillips as a hostage.

Soon the might of the American military bears in on the lifeboat occupied by four pirates and their one hostage.

The movie Captain Phillips is based on the true story of an American skipper on a freighter off the coast of Somalia. I have to assume that everyone that went to that movie already knew the outcome, so there are not too many spoilers I can include in this review.

Tom Hanks is phenomenal as the skipper, showing the strength of character as a leader to the crew, his courage in adversity and the outright fear in his eyes as he sees the pirates board the ship.

The final five minutes of the movie are comprised of the most intense, realistic and difficult acting I can remember ever seeing. This movie of two hours and 14 minutes is worth every second of watching, and the last five minutes are one of the most riveting performances in movie history. Tom Hanks will win awards for this.

Rating: ****

Now that I am done reviewing the movie, there are some thoughts that come to mind.

The Maersk Alabama is a huge freighter with a crew of some thirty people and presumably goods of tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in value, scheduled to sail through known pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia. And there isn’t a single gun on the ship.

Where in the world is the NRA when you need them? There are more guns in a single American elementary school than there are on a freighter off the coast of Africa? According to Wayne LaPierre: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

I am not a gun advocate, but this here is probably one of the world’s most compelling places TO HAVE SOME GUNS.

These pirates in little rickety skiffs in the open ocean 100 miles off the shores of the continent would have no way of boarding a freighter, if there were a few machine guns pointed down at them when they were trying to get close. Water hoses are ok, but they don’t kill and only delay a dedicated and motivated pirate. The crew of these boats are no cowards. Many of them probably have gun racks in their pickup trucks back home. Why don’t they allow them to defend themselves before they have guns pointed to their temples?

I am sure every hunter in this country watching this movie must be cringing in dismay observing how a few barefoot boys out of African hovels take over a ship and terrorize the crew, when a couple of good shots from the deck down at the skiff could have solved the problem.

Or, being a little more obvious, a set of anti-tank missile launchers could be mounted on the four corners of the ship, front and back, which could easily be used to take out pirate skiffs long before they came near enough to a ship to use machine guns. I can’t believe that there isn’t enough budget in any such mission to hire a team of just two mercenaries as part of the crew with the skills to use such weapons against any attackers.

I am sure there is a valid reason why there are no guns. But I have a hard time reconciling it. I certainly would not be very interested in captaining or crewing a ship through such treacherous reaches of the world without a means to defend myself. The presence of countermeasures on the ship would probably serve as a sufficient deterrent against piracy.

I am sure smarter men than I have pondered this – perhaps it’s time to read a book and study up on this topic.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Captain Phillips

  1. vee1987

    Tom Hanks was recently interviewed on the Colbert Report, he said that it wasn’t until this happened that guns were allowed on freighters. Before then, freighters hadn’t really been boarded by pirates, the hulls were too large, until someone decided ‘hey lets get a ladder.’ I didn’t follow up on any fact checking so I don’t know how often/if freighters were actually boarded before Phillips’, or if guns were allowed right after this or if it took longer.

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