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Issue #1616      October 30, 2013

Film review

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips has drawn overwhelmingly friendly critical fire, presumably in the hope it might go some way to repairing decades of US imperialist abuse.

That includes Dubya launching the “war on terror” with dodgy dossiers and the abuse of human rights, Afghanistan calling for the US to withdraw and Obama sabre-rattling in Syria while provoking Russia.

A change of image is definitely on the cards, so along comes this very human story based upon the real-life US hero Captain Phillips. He was taken hostage by Somali pirates on board his ship the Maersk Alabama in 2009.

An ordinary and honourable man, he’s played by Tom Hanks with humanity exuding from every pore.

As he and his wife agonise over the future of their kids, director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray relate the other side of the story. They show fishermen, ruled by warlords, fighting over who’s going to take the next piratical mission as they line up like the dockers of old waiting to be picked.

Ever since Sunday Bloody Sunday, Greengrass’s forte has been to engage the audience in identifying with the protagonists and involving them in the action.

Numerous hand-held cameras intensify the claustrophobia alongside rapid, jump-cut editing.

True to his intention for verisimilitude, Greengrass hired a sister ship to the Maersk Alabama and got the US Defence Department to allow them to use real warships and crew alongside actors who’d gained work experience as seamen.

Phillips’s ship is on its own because he refused the safety of a convoy and, as a strategy is devised to counter the threat in an area where there’d been no hijacks for 200 years they see blips on the radar indicating pirates heading their way.

Their drill becomes a reality but they fail to stop the armed men boarding.

All the incredible action sequences, filmed without the aid of CGI manipulation, take place in the confines of the boat as the pirates track down the crew, with the pirate leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) deciding to take Phillips hostage as the US navy approaches.

The tension throughout is palpable, aided by Hanks’s Oscar-contending performance throughout.

It matters not that Greengrass tries to be even-handed and stress the plight of the global poor, since we’re suddenly caught up in the thrill of the chase until his hero’s rescue by Navy Seals – who have a record in screwing up other jobs.

The war publicists will be more interested in parading a self-effacing hero without gung-ho obscenities, somebody prepared to show charity to his captors.

Yet three of the pirates were shot in the head on a lifeboat and another – who continuously repeats “America, I want to live like the Americans” – now languishes in a US jail for life.

Captain Phillips – a lesson in how to produce the perfect propaganda film – will doubtless be hailed as the most patriotic since The Hurt Locker.

But the difference is that it will take more than a film to portray the US as anything other than a predatory power.

Morning Star

Next article – Quandamooka anger at sandmining move

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