Film Review: Captain Phillips

Reviewed by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi. Directed by Paul Greengrass.

[Stars: 5/5]

What sort of cinema experience makes you stressed?

Perhaps it’s a horror flick where you leap out of your seat at every bang or crash. Maybe it’s a race-against-the-clock-to-survive plot a la Speed. I’ve discovered that for me, I gain white knuckles from films based on a true story where real life-or-death danger is involved.

Last year it was the high stress of Argo that got me. The story of six US diplomats attempting to escape Iran had me on the edge of my seat, especially because I didn’t know the facts of what happened in the real story. And this happened again while watching Captain Phillips. It’s a film that just keeps cranking the tension.

The film is the story of Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) whose cargo ship, the MV Maersk Alabama is headed from Oman to Kenya. Before long, the vessel is approached by ruthless Somali pirates on two skiffs carrying guns and a hunger for money. As you might expect, they manage to board the vessel and ransom the ship, and Captain Phillips has to step up and take control of what is a very high pressure situation.

As I mentioned above, this film doesn’t give you a break. It takes less than ten minutes to hit the ocean and at two-and-a-half hours in length, and a lot of gun pointing and waving, it’s not a film for a lazy afternoon. But it is a fascinating story. These pirates are no Captain Featherswords; they’re reckless, in many ways scared themselves, and mostly have the upper hand. As a viewer, you want to see Phillips succeed but he’s almost always in a state of vulnerability.

Hanks is brilliant as Phillips (perhaps the high seas bring out his best performances), and Abdi is frighteningly convincing as pirate captain Abduwali Muse. The screenplay is wonderfully pieced together and my favourite moments were when the pirates let down their guard briefly to show glimpses of humanity. It’s a surprise sometimes, to see that they aren’t monsters: they are people just like you and I. This is no justification not for their actions – what they committed was a major injustice – but they are humans corrupted by sin.

This reminded me that we are all human, and we are all sinful. We have all been created in the image of God but sin is a disease that has corrupted everyone. We are selfish and want to live with ourselves as captain. We see this in the film: everyone wants to have control.

In Psalm 51:5, King David explains sin in this way: ‘Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.’

We are born sinful, and live this life in a fallen world where the disease of sin has spread. But the great news of the gospel is that when we come to trust in Jesus, giving him the rightful place as King over our lives, God forgives us from our sin – all of it. No matter what atrocities we have committed against God, or others, this offer is on the table for us all.

We should pray for the criminals of this world, like the Somali pirates – that they would see that there’s more to this life than pillaging and kidnapping. But we should also pray that we would realise our own sin and how much we need grace too.

Captain Phillips is the best-produced film I’ve seen all year. I’m giving it five out of five stars.

Captain Phillips is in cinemas now.

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