Friday, October 11, 2013


by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

We've come to expect brilliant performances from Tom Hanks and in this film, portraying Richard Phillips, a ship's captain kidnapped by Somali pirates, Hanks does not disappoint.

Adapted from the original book by Captain Phillips, Billy Ray has written an exciting screenplay.  Although this is a long film, 134 minutes, there's never a moment when it lags or when the audience loses interest. That's fairly significant since the story is already well known, as is the outcome.

To increase the suspense and excitement, director Paul Greengrass used an unusual technique. Already known for his ability to produce thrillers by the second and third installments of the Bourne franchise, he took a different approach to casting and rehearsing the actors for this film.

While he hired Hanks and experienced actors to play the captain and crew of the freighter that was attacked, and rehearsed them extensively, for the pirate roles he advertised in a Minneapolis newspaper for actual Somali men who were non-actors.

During an open call he selected a group of friends who spoke the Somalian language, kept them and rehearsed them separately from the other actors, and basically trained them on how to attack a freighter and take hostages.

Undoubtedly it was this separation that accounts for the facial expressions and shock on the part of the "crew" when they are attacked and boarded.  While they knew they were going to be hijacked by pirates, no one in the cast had actually seen the Somalians playing the pirates and no one understood what they were saying to each other.  So the reaction to the attack is real and the subtitles explaining the dialogue were added later because the "pirates", having had the plot explained to them, did quite a bit of ad libbing.

Barkard Abdi, a non-actor who plays Muse, the leader of the pirates, gives a riveting and scary performance.  Actually soft-spoken and when hired, a non-swimmer, Abdi leads his pirate band is a terrorizing takeover of the freighter.  The chasm between theater and reality is closed since the audience is spellbound and totally absorbed in the action.

Later in the film there is a scene where Captain Phillips is taken to sickbay on a navy destroyer, an unplanned scene that was done at the last minute without a script.  By using the actual medical corpsmen from the ship, the scene achieves reality and believability.

Whether you are into pirate tales or not, this is a thriller on the high seas that should not be missed.