It’s easy to forget this while hanging at an average Portland cafe, but America is scary as hell. Especially if you’re a Somali pirate. You probably already know the story behind the new Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips
, because you heard it first from the helmet-haired hagiographers of cable news. Back in 2009, four Somali pirates boarded a freighter called the Maersk Alabama
and kidnapped its captain, Richard Phillips (played in the movie by Hanks). They kept him for five days on a lifeboat, demanding a ransom of $10 million, then got their brains blown out of their skulls by Navy SEALs. In outline form, the politics of the plot are problematic for a film: It is the heroic triumph of superior, mostly white American forces against amateurish, violent African criminals. But Paul Greengrass’ film is no Black Hawk Down
. Whenever the Navy SEALs emerge, they are seen in blank silhouette, accompanied by the ominous music of alien assault. They look like a machine built only for death. It’s an interesting choice by Greengrass: Why won’t he let you just root for Tom Hanks and the Navy and then cheer at the end? Instead, we observe the inevitable violent death of the only real characters in the film: the pirates themselves. Though shot with an eerie, disciplined neutrality, this is perhaps the most compassionate piece of filmmaking I’ve seen this year. Why can’t we have heroes in this film? Because the world is too weary for them. What we have instead is a situation, and it is grim, and every part of it is sad. Watch the film, and live with that.