ByWill Reitz, writer at
Will Reitz

Captain Phillips is quite a good movie. It explores a subject that has not yet been touched in film: modern piracy. It also gives us a glimpse of the operations of a major, modern commercial ship. Every time terms like “bridge” & “helm” are used, and I feel we are getting into Star Trek territory, the movie delves into something like the disgruntled laborers and their rights via the union. The movie left me wondering why the ship does not have a .50-cal mounted on the roof of the ship. Once it can be established through binoculars that the approaching vessel is armed, on a direct course for the commercial ship, and certainly not fishermen, the ship ought to be able to defend itself while the attackers are still a quarter mile away.

Logical problems (in the reality of the situation, but not in the movie) aside, there is one performance that stands out. No, not Tom Hanks. He did stellar, but he almost always does stellar. Based on his performance, I see an Oscar nomination, but not a win, for best actor. The truly stand-out performance belongs to Barkhad Abdi. His IMDB page is nearly as empty as the pirate named Muse that he portrayed. Indeed, Captain Phillips is his only (but probably not final) movie to date. Prior to being cast in this movie, he was a limo driver, before that, a refugee. At 27, Abdi has experienced more than most adults twice his age. Now he gets the chance to portray Somalia on the big screen. And in doing so, he humanized the Somali pirate subculture without justifying their actions or making them out to be heroes (unlike, for instance, Syriana, which justifies young terrorists’ descent into murder because of the economic “evil” of the West). The movie shows us that Western commercial interests have devastated the fishing economy, giving us the “why” regarding piracy in the triangle south of Arabia & east of Africa. However, Capt. Phillips (Hanks) says it best:

“There’s gotta be another option than fishing and kidnapping.”

There has got to be. The writers of the movie do not try to preach that Somali piracy is really all our fault, nor does it portray these young men as vile, evil men, so eye-deep in a racially-ingrained greed & violence that they have no desire to do anything but kill. Like reality, the answer is somewhere in the middle. Barkhad Abdi gave us a performance that showed us a young man who felt like he had no other option, but who is willing to murder and kidnap. “You are no fisherman!” Phillips yells in the midst of a particularly tense standoff, and you can see it in the eyes of Abdi’s “Muse” that he has crossed a line, and that he is the villain, and that is not what he wanted.

It is unlikely that he will win an Academy Award. Like Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Abdi will be this year’s feel-good nomination. But in my humble opinion, Barkhad Abdi should be the 2014 Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor.

Tom Hanks talks about his Somali costars here


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