Captain Phillips received nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.
If you have ever wanted to know what it would be like to be held hostage by sea pirates, Captain Phillips gives you that chance. Paul Greengrass gets you close enough to the action that it feels like you are right there with Phillips (Tom Hanks). The film is based on the memoir by Richard Phillips, who lived through the real events. And Greengrass is the best man for this job. From Bloody Sunday to United 93, Greengrass has not only made films based on real-life events but intense real-life events.
Captain Phillips boards his cargo ship and prepares his crew. It is the first time this captain and this crew are working together. Phillips makes a list and checks it twice, to make sure everything (including his crew) is as it should. On his list is running drills for emergencies. The drills pay off because as they turn the corner of the horn of Africa, Somali pirates glide closer to the cargo ship. With no weapons on board, the captain and the crew have to defend themselves with water hoses and wit until help comes.
What makes Phillips different from the other films, is that Greengrass employs Tom Hanks as the title character. We trust Hanks. Who else will we allow to take us to outer space, a deserted island, through the trenches of World War II, or the world outside of the toy box?
Hanks’ Captain Phillips shows courage and perseverance. And he does so without demeaning the humanity of the Somali pirates. Who, under the leadership of Muse (Barkhad Abdi), were scary despite their physical appearance. As an aside, the beginning of the film leaves enough space for the audience to conclude that Muse and his henchmen may have had limited options when it came to pirating.
Phillips, however, leaves out the command that Jesus introduces in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:42-48).
When the actual events took place, there was a lot of fear and anger. There was not a lot of love. What would we expect? Pirates were boarding ships, killing, threatening, terrorizing people, many of whom were unarmed.
And yet, Christ calls us to love them.
Perhaps it was because Captain Phillips did not have a weapon he was able to show mercy. It’s worth pondering. Even so, as Phillips tries to survive and to protect his crew, he is merciful. He is patient, doing his best to keep things calm. He draws strength from some unknown power to get through the ordeal.
And Phillips does not ever lash out in anger – physically or verbally – toward Muse. There is a broader scope of what is happening, and it is not about Muse. The situation is not as black and white as some people would want it to be. Greengrass’ storytelling is not one-sided. And because of this, we find ourselves as the audience wishing mercy upon Muse as well.
Showing love to our enemies does not mean we are best friends. But it does mean we can show mercy, kindness, and yes, justice.