I’d not been able to catch this at the cinema last year but, as recommended by Mark Kermode on his Radio 5 programme, watched A Highjacking, another ‘Somali pirates take merchant ship’ thriller, last year on DVD to compensate. Told how intense this film was, I was a little disappointed at first as it didn’t quite match the Danish film. But then…
Comparing the two is perhaps a little unfair as the Danish film was fictional, and so is free to wander wherever dramatic need requires, whereas this is based on a real incident, with real, named, characters and so is expected to stick pretty closely to the real events.
The film opens with Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) saying goodbye to his wife as he’s about to take command of a ship through the Persian Gulf, and we also see young Somali fisherman Muse (Barkhad Abdi) volunteering as a pirate recruited by gun-wielding thugs who ‘own’ the villages along the coast and intimidate the inhabitants. The ordinariness of Phillips’ life is pretty strongly contrasted with the scary gangster state Muse inhabits. The taking of the ship is pretty tense, as the crew try to keep off the pirates with water hoses, the only ‘weapon’ at their disposal and, having failed, secrete most of the crew in the lower decks and try to kill the lights and the engines until they can buy off or drive away their kidnappers.
What surprised me was that the recovery of the ship was only really the first act and, trying not to give too much away, there is plenty more action and tension as Phillips and Muse try to get the better of one another afterwards.
And the final scene – wow! Hanks completely should have got that Oscar nomination. If the rest of the film felt a little distant, a little controlled, to me, it was more than made up for by an absolute powerhouse performance in an utterly moving finale that felt completely real.