Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks)
prepares to go to sea much like he always does:
receiving the e-mail from his company about his designated port of
debarkation, and scheduled port of destination.
He packs his bag, his wife drives him to the airport, he tells her as
he kisses her good-bye that he’ll e-mail her from the ship.
Everything seems routine and ordinary.
Captain Richard Phillips’s assignment
is to pilot a freighter with an American crew past the Somali coast, where
there is known pirate activity. Captain
Phillips decides that the crew should have a drill on their procedures if a
pirate ship does approach: avoidance
maneuvers, and then streaming water hoses from the deck.
They’re unarmed, so if the shooting starts they can’t do anything
We think of pirate ships as a three-masted
schooner, a skull-and-crossbones black flag hoisted over the mainmast,
preparing to board with cutlasses in hand and daggers in the teeth.
Swashbuckling swordfights on the pitching deck, amidst the sails,
tackle, rigging and yardarms.
But it’s not like that anymore.
The pirates these days are armed with machine guns, and appear suddenly
in a very fast motorboat. They still
board with grappling hooks, but against unarmed civilians there really is no
firefight. Once they’re aboard,
they’re in charge.
Captain Phillips is fortunate enough to
outmaneuver them the first day. But
then they’re back with a faster boat, and when they easily catch up to the
freighter and board, the lives of the captain and crew are in the hands of
these Somali pirates, who don’t wear eye patches or have parrots sitting on
their shoulders. They are not rogue-ishly
charming; they’re armed and dangerous
terrorists. And they’re only
interested in the ransom money.
Captain Phillips does have several
thousand dollars of cash on board, but that’s not enough for these pirates,
because they have bosses to answer to regarding how many millions they could
get in exchange for the ship itself. Because
this freighter is flying an American flag, the U.S. Navy gets involved, but
even after they arrive with superior firepower, they’re hesitant to go
charging in for fear of jeopardizing the hostages.
So we have the kind of standoff that makes everyone nervous, and
intensifies all the internal conflicts among all the groups, from civilian
crew to military chain of command to internal squabbling among the pirates
Tom Hanks plays Everyman like nobody
else. Of course, not all of us are
qualified to be a sea captain, but somehow Hanks is just folksy enough to make
us feel completely identified with him, and his sudden plight as a hostage, as
a commodity to be imprisoned, threatened, and possibly exchanged for ransom.
Yes, it’s nerve-rattling, and harrowing, but his heroism is not
really showy patriotic fervor; it’s just plain American pragmatism wrapped
in quiet competence.
Though the supporting cast will be
unknown to American moviegoers, they do a very credible job as convincing
terrorists. But this is Tom Hank’s
show, and he does not disappoint.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,