Klavan On The Culture

Captain Phillips

I didn’t get a chance to see this in the theaters but Captain Phillips may be, with Prisoners, my favorite picture of the year. Powerful, thrilling, inspiring, beautifully acted, especially by the star, Tom Hanks. It tells the based-on-truth story of merchant mariner Richard Phillips, his kidnap by Somali pirates in 2009 and the extraordinary efforts of the U.S. Navy to rescue him.

The ship’s crew has protested that the movie gives Phillips too much credit and denigrates the crew. Some members are suing the shipping line for endangering them. I don’t know who’s right about this, but I will say the movie’s depiction of Phillips is very convincing. He is shown as an ordinary man pushed to extraordinary courage but certainly not as a saint, nor even a movie-style hero. The role of hero falls to the Navy. See if you can keep from cheering when they show up.

The best thing about the film, however, is its portrait of the pirates, played by actual Somalians recruited from a Minneapolis community center. The film is not political in any straightforward way. Brit Director Paul Greengrass, who did the lousy and virulently anti-American second and third Bourne movies, and the idiotic anti-American film Green Zone, has given interviews emphasizing the desperate social situation of the pirates — and there’s truth to this. But like Greengrass’s solid 9/11 picture United 93, Captain Phillips manages to humanize the villains without exonerating them.

Really worth watching.