All At Sea

‘Captain Phillips' & 'All Is Lost'

Can a movie be both thoughtful and electrifyingly exciting? I think Captain Phillips is. Its omniscient camerawork makes you feel like a helpless god viewing everything from every angle without being able to intervene. Its blitzkrieg editing, throbbing soundtrack, complex but coherent action choreography, and naturalistic acting all go to work on your senses. You leave the theater wondering how many complete breaths you’ve taken during the last 140 minutes.

The film is mainly based on Richard Phillips’s memoir A Captain’s Duty, a story that almost begs to be turned into an action-rescue movie, containing, as it does every plot twist, tease, and reversal known to the genre. It’s like the real-life version of Steven Seagal’s Under Siege. Pirates attack an American container ship just off the coast of Somalia, but the well-drilled crew goes into hiding just as the captain (played by Tom Hanks) is taken prisoner, and soon they capture the pirates’ leader, Abduwali Muse (played by Barkhad Abdi). Cheating on a prisoner exchange, the pirates transfer Captain Phillips onto a lifeboat, which gets tracked by a U.S. destroyer. (The American government, unlike the Europeans, has vowed not to pay ransoms to pirates labeled as terrorists.) Then, like the cavalry in a Western, a Navy SEAL team arrives. Surely, given these ingredients, any yeoman...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.