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On Stranger Tides

Captain Phillips (2013)

Hopper Stone/Columbia Pictures

Critics are probably giddy at the prospect of making seasickness the gag line of their “Captain Phillips” reviews, given that handheld camerawork is the stock in trade of director Paul Greengrass. All joking aside, consider it fair warning, as one could conceivably get queasy before Tom Hanks’s eponymous captain even sets sail. Once at sea, the photography actually seems placid, perhaps because you’ve grown accustomed to the shakiness or it simply pales in comparison to the relentlessly turbulent unfolding of this fact-based drama about the 2009 Somali pirates’ hijacking of the container ship Maersk Alabama.

The filmmaking is excellent just as you’ve come to expect from Mr. Greengrass, so let’s nitpick on thematic problems critics will likely let slide: Billy Ray’s screenplay is completely plot-driven. The opening expository scenes juxtapose Mr. Phillips’s and the pirates’ parallel home lives, and the dueling perspectives hint at human interest and moral complexity. But once the pirates are aboard the Maersk Alabama, any semblance of nuance is out the window and into the sea. What begins as a necessary evil some Somalians must commit in order to survive somehow evolves into full-blown greed and anti-American reprisal. How it gets there is anyone’s guess; but if he meant to insinuate that Mr. Phillips’s patronizing peace offering was the catalyst, Mr. Ray surely didn’t connect all the dots. Alejandro González Iñárritu he is most certainly not.

Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali are effective as the pirates. With the exception of Mr. Abdi, they at times convey the vulnerability of small-time crooks caught in a botched plot way beyond their depth. Curiously, Mr. Abdi’s Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse — the pirates’ ringleader — sticks out as a cold-blooded sociopath. You wonder whether that is due to limited acting ability or if his character was indeed scripted and directed just so.


Opens on Oct. 11 in the United States and on Oct. 18 in Britain.

Directed by Paul Greengrass; written by Billy Ray, based on the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by Henry Jackman; production design by Paul Kirby; costumes by Mark Bridges; produced by Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 14 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Tom Hanks (Capt. Richard Phillips), Barkhad Abdi (Muse), Barkhad Abdirahman (Bilal), Faysal Ahmed (Najee), Mahat M. Ali (Elmi), Michael Chernus (Shane Murphy), Corey Johnson (Ken Quinn), Max Martini (SEAL Commander), Chris Mulkey (John Cronan), Yul Vazquez (Capt. Frank Castellano), David Warshofsky (Mike Perry) and Catherine Keener (Andrea Phillips).


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