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Popcorn Preview: Captain Phillips

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Film: Captain Phillips (2013)
Cast includes: Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan), Catherine Keener (Into the Wild), Barkhad Abdi
Screenplay: Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, State of Play)
Director: Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93)
Genre: Drama | Crime | Action (134 minutes) Based on the book, "A Captain's Duty" by Richard Phillips

Vermont, March 28, 2009... Richard Phillips is getting ready to go. "You'd think these trips would get easier." It's hard being away from his family for these long stretches, and he worries about his college-aged kids. "Things are changing so fast. There are 50 guys competing for every job." He kisses Andrea good-bye at the airport and promises to call when he gets in. Meanwhile in Eyl, Somalia, the warlords are angry because they want Muse to "get out there and make some money." There's no shortage of young men who want to go... someone strong, someone to steer... he chooses three men. The rest push the skiff off the shore. At sea, they join another skiff and the "mother ship."

As the last of the "boxes" are loaded, Captain Phillips looks over the Maersk Alabama as he heads to the pilothouse. For a freighter going from Port of Salalah to Mombasa... there are some issues. "I want the pirate cages locked at all times." On the pirate's mother ship, Muse and the others study the radar. There's an abundance of ships to choose from, but Muse knows that's not what matters. "We can't attack a herd." He looks for a single dot on the radar... one that's out there alone. Captain Phillips wants a complete security drill so everyone knows the procedures in case of piracy. They have room for improvement, but generally, they're looking good. The radar screen is completely empty... except now... there are two dots on the edge. "I don't like the look of that... muster stations." "Are we still on drill?" "No. This is a real-world situation... not a drill." When he finally reaches the Maritime Emergency Line about "a potential piracy situation," he's told, "Chances are they're just fishermen." "They're not here to fish!"

The Maersk Alabama almost manages to repel the pirates, but the Somalis are determined. Cargo ships are unarmed so once they get a ladder attached, there's no way to fight them off. "Remember, you know the ship. They don't," says Phillips as they prepare for what comes next. The crew of 20 can only hope to outwit them. But Muse isn't an armature... he sees through most of their "tricks." "Look at me. Look at me! I'm the captain now," he tells Phillips. "No Al Qaeda here. Just business. When we get paid, everything gonna be all right." We get the impression that Muse actually wants a smooth business transaction, but the situation is very volatile. As suspenseful action films go, Captain Phillips is as good as they get... great acting, cinematography and a heart-thumping soundtrack. It also has an excellent and intelligent script... not completely true to actual events... but close enough. If you remember the news stories, you'll know how it ends, but you won't know all the unexpected skirmishes along the way. It's an emotional roller coaster, but even as it spins out of control, we see the humanity of the characters... including the pirates, who are alternately fueled by rage, desperation, confusion, fatigue and fear. We never know what's next. "There's gotta be something better than kidnapping people," says Phillips. "Maybe in America. Maybe in America."

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Based on actual events, four Somali pirates take over an unarmed freighter and hold the captain hostage

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, Crime)
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Zips right along
Visual Style: High-end production
Primary Driver: Plot and character development
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought provoking

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