Ear-splitting. Heart-stopping. Breathtaking. Nationally inspiring. These are a few phrases that described the new movie “Captain Phillips.”
It’s a pulsing story about Somali pirates who capture a huge freighter from a rickety motorboat only to face the overwhelming might of the U.S. military.
If the movie “Black Hawk Down” was the story about the defeat of the U.S. military and their subsequent retreat from Mogadishu at the hands of Somali warlords, then “Captain Phillips” is a movie about U.S. warriors seeking to defeat Somali pirates on the open seas.
The PG-13 rated “Captain Phillips” opened in movie theaters last weekend. The film is based with a good deal of factual elasticity of a 2009 maritime hijacking.
Played by actor Tom Hanks, Captain Richard Phillips is the good guy. He captains the massive cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama. He protects his cargo and his crew. He negotiates calmly in chaos.
Played by actor Barkhad Abdi, Muse is the bad guy. He captains the four-man crew of pirates. He is determined, really compulsive. He is greed-driven. He leads with intimidation, violence, cunning.
Phillips and Muse face off. Phillips acts with diversion and kindness. Muse acts with suspicion and ruthlessness.
The previous paragraphs are one way to view the movie. It is the way of simple moral clarity.
But things aren’t always as they appear. Good movies have textured story lines, layers of meaning, moral complexity
The movie’s moral complexity unfolds along thin veins, some of which are easily missed. The movie is about skinny versus thick, conscription versus choice, desperation versus destination. Only a movie spoiler would give away what he means by these conflicts.
Two lines do hint at these conflicts.
At one point, Muse says to Phillips, “Captain, relax, nobody gets hurt. No Al Qaeda here. Just business.”
The term “just business” masks what drives the business of piracy.
At another point, Phillips says to Muse, “There’s gotta be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.”
Muse answers, “Maybe in America.”
If you decide to watch “Captain Phillips,” go armed with more than an understanding that the American way is not the global way. Go with some insight into Somalia.
Somalia is a place on the Horn of Africa more than the name of a country. The clan-based society is deeply impoverished. It is a society marred by internal violence that has exported violence.
According to a 2013 World Bank report, Somali piracy costs the global economy $18 billion annually. Between 2005 and 2012, pirate ransom for ships “rose to as much as $385 million.”
Some contend that piracy began when international fishing fleets invaded Somali waters, draining away one of Somalia’s few sources of income.
In “Captain Phillips,” two worlds collide. One world is where people live in mud huts, sleep on dirt floors in a fishing village and have few means for making a living.
In the other world, people travel an interstate to an airport to fly across the globe for employment. These two worlds share common technologies – weapons, radars and walkie-talkies. They share uncommon means to ensure survival.
In this pirate movie, poverty challenges power.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.