Sunday, 16 December 2018

High tension at sea in true-life encounter

Film: Captain Phillips

Film: Captain Phillips

Certificate: (12A)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Addirahman, Faysal Ahmen, Catherine Keener

LAST week in this column I said I would not be going to see Le Weekend. I lied. It wasn’t my fault — my other half dragged me there. But in fact my hunch that it was going to be a sorry story of two middle-class, middle-aged moaners with little to redeem it other than the odd witty comment turned out to be right. In fact it was even worse than I envisaged.

Nick and Meg, played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, are two nitpicking, navel-gazing nincompoops who have everything good going for them (money, jobs, a family and good health) but nothing good to say to one another. It portrays the kind of self-pity and nastiness that you know exists everywhere in the world, you just don’t want to pay good money on a Friday night to witness it up close.

Captain Phillips, which opens tonight (Friday) at the Regal, is the complete antidote. It’s the true-life story of an American container ship which is boarded by Somali pirates and it is a gut-wrenching insight into what happens in such a situation.

There is a sense of foreboding from the very beginning, as the captain of Maersk Alabama, played by Tom Hanks, gets ready to leave his wife and comfortable home in Vermont to fly to Oman, where he will pick up the vessel for a trip to Mombassa. He and his wife discuss their worries about the kids and how they’ll miss one another while he’s away.

Cut to a dust-blown village in Somalia, where desert meets sea with not much in between for the gun-toting, hungry and angry young men whose only hope of making money is to hijack a ship, under the direction of the local warlord. They have nothing but their pride — to show cowardice in the face of danger is a fate worse than death.

Two ramshackle and rusty skiffs set off to entrap the mighty Alabama and when four pirates from one of the boats manage to climb on board against all the odds the tension ratchets up.

After a fraught few hours, they take the captain hostage and make off in a life boat, without realising they will soon be up against the might and metal of the US navy.

It’s always hard to know with true-life movies how much of it is real and how much embellished but brilliant acting aside — from both Hanks and Barkhad Abdi who plays ringleader Muse — the strength of this film is in its realistic script and the verisimilitude of the action.

The psychological drama of the terrorist-hostage relationship, and the little glimmers of humanity that can spark from even the most hard-edged and violent of men, is also fascinating.

This is a violent and terrifying story of what men can wrought and it’s sure to shock you out of any middle-class complacency that may be threatening to settle in.

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