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September 2nd, 2014

Captain Phillips **1/2

 

It is weird to me that pirates are so popular.

 

Pirates are portrayed as dashing rebels who sail the seven seas, hunt for hidden treasure, and offer people mass-produced spiced rum.

 

Thousands of kids will choose to dress up as pirates this week. And I know that Halloween costumes are often scary bad guys, like ghosts and witches and clutch Detroit Tigers hitters. But the thing is: ghosts and witches and clutch Tigers aren’t real. Pirates are very real. And they’re very bad.

 

I can’t think of a crime more selfish and heartless than piracy. Picture a pirate attack from the point of view of the victims. When you are attacked at sea, there is no warning, nowhere to run, and there’s no 911 officer to call.

 

It’s like you’re a victim of terrorism. Only if you are injured in a terrorist attack on land, you can call an ambulance. If you are wounded by a pirate, you may be hours or days away from the nearest hospital.

 

“Captain Phillips” is a rare movie about pirates that doesn’t romanticize or sugarcoat the crime of piracy.

 

After a way-too-long first act, the action really begins when a band of machine gun wielding Somalis board a giant merchant ship and try to take over.

 

After a tussle with the ship’s crew, the disorganized pirates are forced to flee. They leave in a lifeboat, along with one prisoner: the ship’s captain – a Vermonter by the name of Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks).

 

The pirates hope that keeping the American will both shield them from attack and earn them a hefty ransom.

 

But mostly the pirates don’t have a plan at all. In most action movies, the villains are highly organized and hyper-intelligent. The Somali pirates in “Captain Phillips” are just a pack of unemployed bums who barely know each other.

 

The movie feels believable, but I am skeptical. It’s hard to trust that the scenes that take place off the coast of Somalia are realistic when the scenes that take place in Vermont are so unrealistic. There are no bustling, four-lane highways between Underhill and Burlington. And Vermonters do not speak with a Kennedy-esque Boston accent.

 

If director Paul Greengrass didn’t take the time to research Vermont, it’s hard to trust that he painstakingly researched Somali culture. I certainly don’t believe that most Somalis speak english as well as the pirates in the movie do.

 

All in all, “Captain Phillips” is a reasonably suspenseful but overlong film about one man’s terrible ordeal at sea. I don’t recommend the movie, but I appreciate that it shines some light on the true ugly nature of piracy.

 

For the record: I am not saying that pirates are worse than terrorists. I am saying, however, that real pirates are considerably worse than Captain Jack Sparrow.

 

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