It’s hard to imagine what film critic Andrew O’Hehir wanted to see when he screened Captain Phillips.
The new Tom Hanks movie is based on real events–the 2009 kidnapping by Somali pirates of an American-based container ship. The truth offers its own spoiler alert–U.S. Navy SEALs successfully rescued the ship’s captain, played by Hanks in the movie, during a tense water-based exchange.
The Salon critic, an unabashed liberal based on his film reviews, bemoans how the movie captures the SEALs in heroic fashion while depicting the pirates in less glowing tones.
O’Hehir gets the actual “review” part of his article out of the way fast:
Considered on its most obvious merits, “Captain Phillips” – which opened the New York Film Festival on Friday night — is an intense and claustrophobic maritime adventure … It may well earn Tom Hanks the Oscar nomination he’s so clearly striving for.
Well, that sounds excellent. O’Hehir isn’t done.
I can’t decide if there’s meant to be anything sardonic about the presentation of the asymmetrical conflict in “Captain Phillips”: Billions of dollars of cutting-edge military hardware and hundreds of corn-fed, gym-toned Americans on one side, four malnourished men with black-market Kalashnikovs on the other. But I kind of think there isn’t.
If only the pirates had a few more protein shakes and legally procured weapons with which to terrorize their captives. O’Hehir then reports how U.S. forces got involved in the first place.
All the shipping companies were getting tired of paying out millions in ransom to the freelance taxing authorities of Somalia, and were delighted to let the U.S. military take on all the trouble and expense of making an example of this particular band.
Finally, the writer throws up his hands, worrying that movie goers might leave the theater disheartened that Phillips and co. had the resources the wily band of pirates lacked.
“Captain Phillips” is less an adventure yarn about the daring rescue of a captured American than a celebration of a huge and expensive machine that crushes disorder.
Both O’Hehir and Time Out New York critic Joshua Rothkopf point to A Hijacking, a 2013 film tackling a similar pirate event, as a superior cinematic model. The different, perhaps? That film slyly mocks the corporation trying to free the hostages, and there’s no heroic U.S. military in play.