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Friday, April 4, 2014

I am the Captain of my Ship...

Paul Greengrass sticks to his specialization with Captain Phillips - dramatization of real-life events. Based on the memoir by the eponymous Captain Richard Phillips, the movie tells the story of this brave merchant mariner whose vessel was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia. The movie made a splash at all the award ceremonies this season. But I didn’t feel the effect that mesmerized so many. Maybe because Hollywood has overindulged through the years on the ordinary-man-turning-a-hero theme for far too long. Sure it is a touching story, this valiant, no non-sense man, and captain of the ship, protected all his crew and even allowed himself to be taken by the pirates to save his ship, but at the end of it all, it still follows the old routine. We know the ending even before watching the movie: the bad guys will either die or be sent to prison, and the courageous Captain Phillips will save the day. 

So there, I have told you the story of the movie. Please don’t blame me for not putting any *Spoilers Alert* because if you are na├»ve enough to think that the story would end any other way, then I feel sorry for you. Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips; as a bespectacled, grey bearded, father of two, Hanks slips into the shoes of the mariner effortlessly. But the star of the film is not him but Bharkhad Abdi, who plays the leader of the pirate gang Muse. His “I am the captain now” is the most remembered line from the movie and will probably make it all the way to the Most Memorable Movie Quotes. It seemed Abdi had lived till date to play a Somali pirate onscreen. His long, thin frame, high cheekbones and bony face spoke of hunger that is common to probably all Somalis, especially after the devastating Civil war: the hunger for food, for security, for power, but mostly the hunger for another life. Muse echoes this exact sentiment when he tells Phillips that his dream is to go to America one day and buy a car. Surviving only on khat, which suppresses their hunger and keeps them functioning, this amphetamine is a popular choice of drug among most of the real life Somali pirates. 

What comes as minor shock to the audience is the humanization of the gun wielding pirates. This is the Greengrass touch. You begin to see them as people and simply not as plunderers. You get to know their background stories and it is very important that you know that. So these Somalis are the bad guys, fine but why are they the bad guys? What made them the bad guys? 

The piracy off the Somali coast is a very relevant international issue that needs to be solved for the continuity of international trade. The pirates are mostly fishermen whose livelihood has been destroyed by the illegal fishing by international trawlers. What do they do, in a country that is already torn apart by civil war? They decide to take matters into their hands, take up arms and decide to protect their waters. As Muse tells Phillips, it is just business, you enter our waters, you pay tax. If you sit and think, how wrong do you think Muse is?! The Somali coastline has long since been a favourite dumping ground of toxic waste of several major European firms. So these people are now fighting for something that rightfully belongs to them. When the pirates learn that it is an American ship that they have captured, they are gleeful, because America is equivalent to dollars. And the audience is allowed a disconcerting look at the America backed global capitalism and American power and priviledge.

Captain Phillips is a worthy  watch only because of the performance of Hanks and Abdi as the two captains. The ending can play with your emotions; the empty look in Muse’s eyes when his rights are being read out to him and the struggle to stay in control of his emotions by Phillips is probably the most emotional of the movie as the characters display two abundantly contradictory emotions.

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