What I’ve Been Watching: Captain Philips

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It’s not at all surprising that a film like Captain Philips exists. It is in many ways a (ahem…) Perfect Storm of a film. It has an all-american hero; evil terrorist pirates; and plenty of tense action scenes to boot. Yet because it is a real-life tale in does manage to rise above films of a similar type in its depiction of all these different elements.

Paul Greengrass’ Captain Philips tells the tale of the day the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by a group of Somalian men. The captain (Tom Hanks) much react quickly to events as they unfold doing his utmost to outwit the pirates without loss of his cargo, and especially his crew.

There’s a certain pleasure in watching the way a real-life event can differ so much from the way similar events are portrayed in fictional films. In some ways Captain Philips has a similar set-up to Die Hard with the terrorists getting inside a place and various characters hiding out and trying to stop them. However, with no guns, weapons or martial arts skills Philips is left with none of the traditional ‘movie’ methods to stop them.

It’s with considering for a second why the relative simplicity with which Bruce Willis deals with his foes in a film like Die Hard appeals to us. Perhaps it’s because real life is pretty complicated. How do we deal with a boss who is constantly on our case? How do we help our best friend who’s coping with a break-up? How do we find time to see all of our friends/family as often as we’d like?

Movie land on the other hand is often very simple. There’s a bad guy with a gun. The good guy gets a gun, finds him and shoots him. Problem solved.

Of course even when we come across “movie-like” scenarios like Captain Philips really did, guns and knock-out punches are rarely viable options. Instead it is negotiation, knowledge and strength in numbers which become essential tools which Philips and his crew must rely on to prevent a catastrophe.

Greengrass’ ‘shaky’ documentary style perfectly suits this “stripped-down” action scenario. Much like Bloody Sunday and United 93,
everything is up-close, claustrophobic, frenetic and very, very tense.

Finally, unlike a lot of similar action films, there’s also an attempt made to humanise the “bad guys”. While talking with Philips they claim that the American over-fishing of their shores has left them with no source of income. They can beg or rob rich western boats. Like Babel, the film seems to be saying there’s a sense in which globalisation has connected us all. How is it fair that those with so much can literally sail straight past those with so little without even thinking?

Captain Philips then is a fine film from a fine director which manages to be far more intelligent, complex, and of course entertaining than most other action films out there.

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