On the way to his assignment to commandeer the massive U.S. cargo ship Maersk Alabama on a transport run in 2009, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his wife (Catherine Keener) discuss the futures of their almost grown children and how quickly the world is moving. Clearly an identifiable benevolent father figure, an archetype ruled by the Sun, Phillips has no idea how deeply that conversation will resonate when he’s soon held captive at sea.
Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass, is based on a true incident involving four young Somali pirates’ getting onboard the Maersk, around the Horn of Africa, despite Phillips’ having had his 20-man crew take additional security measures. Despite the protests from his men to the pirates, Phillips, a civilian officer, just wants the bad guys off his ship and he acquiesces to being taken hostage.
Early in the movie, we see how warlords in Somalia orchestrate how pirate teams are chosen. The eye lands on the riveting Muse (Barkhad Abdi) – skinny as a rail with sunken eyes, protruding teeth and cheek bones like ledges – and he’s every bit the no-nonsense commander as Phillips is. Although from vastly different lots in life, Muse and Phillips are two Suns – leaders and motivational figures to their respective comrades – now engaged in a face-off. And, as if Phillips needs to be reminded, Muse says, “Look at me, I’m the captain now.”
Of course, once Phillips is captured, the U.S. government gets involved. To be sure, before this five-day ordeal is over, the Navy, its SEALs, war ships, helicopters and hostage negotiators will descend. But it’s the interaction between Phillips and his captors, all encased in a tiny lifeboat pod, bobbing in the water, that’s the more unsettling to watch.
The teenaged hijackers (Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahman and Mahat M. Ali) are, after all, aspirants to a better life, with piracy the only Somali-sanctioned conduit to effect their financial goals. Muse had named a ludicrously high ransom and even wants to go to America and buy a car. What Phillips can’t fathom is Somalia’s absence of viable futures for its young people. Also on Phillips’ shoulders is having to tell Muse the present hostage scenario will not end well. This is a concerned father desperately trying to inject a dose of reality into the once terrifying Muse, and it’s heart-breaking to watch. “I’ve come too far, I can’t give up,” says Muse, the proverbial son who’s having none of it.
Fathers typically say things like, “Everything’s going to be okay.” For most of the movie, it’s Muse who reassures Phillips. And when the ordeal is over, it’s a female medical professional who consoles the captain, whose delayed physical and emotion reaction to all that has transpired is a magnificent acting turn by Hanks. One can’t help thinking that at least part of his breakdown stemmed from the absent fathers he could not replace.
Astrology Film Rating: ☉ (Sun)