Captain Phillips
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 but duck.
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 themselves.
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, Irving , Texas