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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Captain Phillips | Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Captain Phillips | Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi | Review

On its way to a port in Kenya through the Arabian Sea off of the coast of Somalia, the MV Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship, is breached by a small band of armed pirates, although you won’t find a parrot or a peg-leg among them. These are lean, desperate men, with malice in their eyes and nothing to lose.

Although the pirate fleet initially dispatched two boats in pursuit of the ship, one eventually retreats, rethinking the enormity and consequences of taking on the U.S.  The leader of the second boat, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) has something to prove to the war lord he works for, so he and his crew of three, including a young teen, eventually board the ship and menace Merchant Marine Captain Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) and two of his men; the rest of the crew hide in the engine room. The subsequent forced search for them at gunpoint is compelling.

Muse is slick, speaking English and anticipating strategic moves on the Captain’s part, whom he calls “Irish.”  Despite his cunning confidence, Muse is eventually overtaken by the crew and exchanged for the Captain, with the $30,000 and the ship’s small lifeboat as a getaway vessel.  Muse decides that Captain Phillips would make a good bargaining chip, and in a surprise move, takes him hostage aboard the lifeboat as well.

Then the U.S. Navy gets involved and that means the SEALS.  Countdown to resolution becomes certain, but not before tense, claustrophobic negotiations, threats (screamed at varying frequencies from the pirates at incredibly short intervals) and bloodshed.

Tom Hanks injects Captain Phillips with a core of steel beneath the good-guy persona, quietly heroic yet subtly manipulative.  Yet he’s not afraid to be afraid, shedding stoicism for self-preservation when the need arises.  Barkhad Abdi’s Muse is a complex conglomeration of conflicted resolve, at times venomous, ruthless, contemplative, and bitter.  He doesn’t hate America; in fact, he wants to live there.

Because these events were so well documented and right out of the pages of international news, the outcome is no surprise.  Director Paul Greengrass (Flight 93) concentrates on the details and multi-layered sequence of events leading up to Captain Phillips’ eventual rescue.  Shaky camera shots give the film a documentary feel, raising the tension bar to nearly fever pitch and holding it there for an emotionally exhausting amount of time, hammering away at the immediacy, peril, and hair trigger temperaments of the situation.

Screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) adapted Captain Richard Phillips' 2010 memoir "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea," co-written with Stephan Talty into a fast ride on a slow lifeboat.  Greengrass provides the porthole that allows us to witness the events as they unfold.  

Captain Phillips delivers the goods, the way the real-life Captain continues to do to this day.

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