Film of the Week: Captain Phillips

I will put it up front right now so that people know of any bias that may come from this critique: Tom Hanks is my favorite actor in Hollywood.

Not only are his roles diverse, but he does them with the same level of energy, professionalism and awesomeness that makes him on of the greats.

Now that this is out of the way, let us continue with the review.

Captain Phillips is a biopic based on the true story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa, causing the capture of the ship and hostage taking of Captain Richard Phillips (portrayed by Tom Hanks).

It is interesting and important to state that this film has received controversy over the portrayal of the title character Rich Phillips. Many that were a part of the crew publicly stated that Phillips is not the heroic character that the film portrayed him to be.

On CNN, the Chief Engineer stated that Phillips was told many times to go further out to sea in order to avoid pirates that stayed close to land. Phillips refused those suggestions and stayed on task.

Phillips’ reasoning being, “I don’t believe 600 miles would make you safe. I didn’t believe 1,200 miles would make you safe. As I told the crew, it would be a matter of when, not if…We were always in this area.”

AP Photo: Tom Hanks, center, in a scene out of Captain Phillips. Zak Koehler awarded this film 4.5 out of 5 stars.

AP Photo:
Tom Hanks, center, in a scene out of Captain Phillips. Zak Koehler awarded this film 4.5 out of 5 stars.


After watching the movie:

It has to be said now: Billy Ray, the screenwriter, deserves the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. His penning of this script must have been one that had a lot of conflicting emotion, which clearly showed in his writing.

Ray created character arches and conflicts that are so elaborate and deep, an audience member is unable to have just one emotional attachment to the characters.

Take for example the main conflict: Captain Phillips and the Somalian pirate Muse (played by Barkhad Abdi). There is a respected captain of an American corporation who is trusted with millions of dollars worth of merchandise, versus Muse, who is as low on the totem pole as he could be, forced by a warlord into the life of a money-hungry pirates force. You would assume that it would be easy to know who to root for. Ray makes you change that assumption.

One could assume that we as an audience will hate the Somali pirates for taking over a ship that does not belong to them while threatening the lives of innocent crew members. Ray shatters that stereotype about an hour into the film. The great irony, and beauty, of Captain Phillips is that the main antagonists of this film aren’t even villainous. Instead, Ray pens the Somali to be people that are in a conflict within themselves causing them to do actions that are in the grey area.

Instead of being stereotypical evil African pirates, Ray writes them in a way to show their humanity and to give us a chance to understand where they are coming from. In some sense of the word, the pirates are also victims. The head pirate, Muse, explains that “Corporations came in and fished our waters. The fish are either all caught or scared away. I was a fisherman.” My jaw dropped when this came around.

The character of Muse tied in with the brilliant writing begs us to see where some of these people that we deem “evil” are truly just reacting to their environment. When globalization takes over and corporations from different countries come and take away the livelihood of inhabitants, it can create a chain reaction.

When other countries take away the livelihood, the people can not make money. When that occurs, the economy of entire villages collapses, allowing easier susceptibility to warlords who come to convince the people to work for them. It is a giant domino effect.

Seeing it this way, can we blame the pirates? I am not saying that all of the pirating that occurs is due to this, and Ray makes sure that is understood too. He pens a pirate in Muse’s gang that is unhinged and much more evil in spirit. This one uses his gun to scare people to his submission and is had to be told multiple times by Muse to calm down and to put the gun away.

Having this type of antagonist character development is extremely refreshing in a post-9/11 world. Having a movie that shows humanity in the ones that Americans see as evil is a fresh idea in Hollywood which pushes out movies such as The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, The Last King of Scotland and Jarhead.

Of course I have to talk about my homeboy Tom Hanks. His acting was superb once the film really got going. For the first ten minutes, I was honestly shocked by his acting. There were a few moments where I was thinking that Hanks can do better than this.

Looking back, however, I think it was the slightly awkward beginning and the minimal amount of information that was given to the audience in the first act. It isn’t a shock when Hanks began really flexing his muscles and did a fantastic job.

There is one scene in the final stages of the movie where Hanks’ character is rescued and is being looked at by a Navy nurse. The range of emotions that he goes through in the two and-ahalf minute scene was so real, so life-like, that it is quite literally giving me chills just thinking about it as I write.

Overall, I am giving this movie a 4.5 out of 5 stars. My reasoning is that there was a slightly awkward opening act coupled with a few editing choices that seemed a bit off for this type of thriller. This film is my top favorite to win the best adapted screenplay at the Oscars.

Abdi is my frontrunner to win the Academy Award for best supporting actor. He was given a role as an amateur actor with no past film credits. He took the written words given to him and successfully portrayed a pirate while showing human understanding, intellect and prowess of taking control of a situation that was thrust upon him in a powerful way. He upped the ante on supportive acting. I can not think of a more perfect recipient.

Until next time.


Zak Koehler can be reached at

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