It is hard to mess up a biopic, it’s not entirely impossible as some of the movies on this list would testify. Captain Phillips, the latest cinematic production based on the life of a real person and real events stands judgement in this post. Tom Hanks rarely disappoints and this time is no different. This movie is based on the Maersk Alabama Hijacking which happened in 2009 in the Indian Ocean. The story is of a cargo ship and its captain and their tussle with Somali Pirates near the coast of Somalia.
The movie showcases how both involved parties go about their journey till their fated meeting. The life aboard a commercial craft and that aboard a pirate vessel in a modern 3rd world country seem portrayed rather appropriately. The crew and captain are shown as aware of the imminent threat and tackle it as best they can. The crew’s ingenuity, the pirates desperation, the captain’s courage all seem very real and you thank the movie makers for the wonderful casting. In movies like these portraying Africa it is often a tendency to under-play the social components of the lives of the native inhabitants. Here however the conversations of the Somalis are refreshing. Fear, greed, promise and other emotions come through the characters even though they speak very little English and not solely by virtue of the sub titles.
The plot showcases the crew and the captain’s attempt to keep the Pirates from taking the ship and how instead the pirates take up the captain hostage ( this is not a spoiler cause this much is evident in the trailer). Come in the US navy and things get really thrilling. The entire movie carries the base story very well leaving a lot of nail-biting moments. Hollywood has been accused of making an untrue story into a movie and a bungler into a hero. This view has been taken up by several crew members of the Alabama who have actually gone ahead and sued the movie makers. Actual stuff or a publicity stunt? I don’t know. I enjoyed the movie thoroughly and that’s what is important.
There are some movies which leave you thinking long after they are over. This feature had one of the strongest after tastes I have felt in a long time. Not that the story in itself was so impacting but the conclusions that can be drawn from it or the truths it offers. As the scenes of a large container, the docks of Arabia and the tales of Piracy in the Indian Ocean came to light I began to form new questions in my head. Lets see what left me wondering.
- The shot of the shipyard ( Credited to Barry Ackroyd – Cinematographer) is wonderful. The scale is huge, the scene colorful with multi colored metal containers. It also brings home the reality of the importance of the port in question, Oman – Salalah. Container Docks are Huge!
- Are merchant vessels really so sparsely armed or prepared? Well the more I read about this the more I appreciate that why is it so. The legal complexities, the responsibility for all crew members, the potential risks and the lack of familiarity with weapons are some which come to mind. This is a good read on the same by the US Naval Institute. The recent case in India where Italian nationals killed fishermen comes to mind when one considers the consequences of carrying arms in International waters.
- Somalian Piracy, what do we know? Piracy to a kid or even an average Joe doesn’t usually go beyond Jack Sparrow or if you are a little better educated, Captain Hook, Peter Pan, the Jolly Roger and Long John Silver. Buccaneers & Privateers and Yo -Ho Ho! By products of unbridled imperialism. Piracy today is rarely the talk of news channels except for cases in the Indian Ocean, like these Somalian incidents. The Somalian Civil War is not alien to most, even those like me who haven’t really paid attention to what the fighting is about are aware of the violence and strife in the region. A result of this instability in the region has led to desperate people turning to the seas.
Somalia has pockets of anarchy especially in the South which have bred many a formidable war lords. Having sucked the people and lands dry they turned to the rich sea bound trade routes. Their purposes seemingly have been best served by men aged under 40 who are skilled at navigation and sea work, mostly ex – fishermen or their sons. Equipped with arms smuggled from Yemen or transported from Mogadishu these youngsters bear a natural resentment towards large foreign ships which have been messing up with their fishing grounds. Such anger seasoned with the zest of violence and desperation to make a living has made the East coast of Africa a dangerous ship route. It’s estimated that the loss of trade to the ships in the region annually due to ransoms, delays, rescue efforts and other costs is about 6 billion dollars. Insurance companies have increased their premiums manifolds and employee contracts have also been accordingly upgraded. It’s hard to believe that a few hundred men in self – improvised skiffs can cause so much trouble. Only 40 men till now have been caught in the region. Convictions due to international boundaries are rare. [Ref]
- USA does so much for 1 man ? There can be no doubt as to the strength of the world’s only remaining super power but to actually send in 3 ships to rescue a merchant ship captain? Its like Saving Private Ryan! The cost of the fuel of any such journey alone to me would make it a bad decision. But perhaps I think as an inhabitant of country of over a billion where the government can’t stop people from dying inside the nation let alone elsewhere. The response time, the preparedness and the manpower might be over stated in a feature film but if you look up the Combined Task force 151,152,158 and 150 in the region you will be astounded. Dozens of nations have hundreds of crafts in the area. The USA has an entire fleet, the 5th Fleet positioned in the Indian Ocean. The country after which the Ocean is named is getting its 2nd warship in while even China has nearly 2 dozen already cutting these rough seas. This also spawns the thought that international incidents like the one in the movie make for a great reason to justify a very sparse and dense military deployment overseas.
Movies of current times and happenings of the world which rarely touch us directly make not only for good viewing but also good education.