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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Unnecessary Part of "Captain Phillips"

"Captain Phillips" is a helluva movie, a high-seas adventure with Tom Hanks (the only cast member you'll recognize) as captain of a cargo vessel that's taken over by four Somali pirates. There are plenty of articles and reviews that will tell you as much as you want to know about the movie, but I haven't seen anyone else mention that the entire introductory sequence should have been cut.

In it, Rich Phillips (Hanks) is preparing to leave home in New England, and gets a lift to the airport from his wife (Catherine Keener). The scenes tell us nothing about the couple other than he's been doing this job -- leaving for long periods to work -- for many years, and they love each other. Once they say goodbye at the airport, we never see Keener again. Instead, director Paul Greengrass (who did A+ work in a couple of Bourne movies and "United 93") cuts to a village in Somalia, where war lords are forcing locals to get on small skiffs and head into the ocean to try to capture a cargo ship. Yes, we see the difference between Phillips' normal American life and the desperation of the Somalis, but it's unnecessary for the story, which quickly becomes compelling enough to pull us in, with riveting performances by the Somalis who play the pirates.

It seems unlikely that Keener would sign on to the movie knowing her role would be so small. How small? The photo above is the only one showing Hanks and Keener together in the movie that comes up in a Google images search. I can't help but wonder if there were other scenes shot with Keener -- at home watching the story unfold on cable news, or a tearful reunion once Phillips is rescued -- that Greengrass decided were too distracting from the rest of the story. If so, he was right, but he didn't go far enough. He should have excised the opening scenes, too.

Worth a link: when the Maersk Alabama was taken that day in 2009, the crew had no weapons onboard, nor did any other cargo ship. That's still true, but the cargo companies have hired contractors who are armed and have changed the balance of power at sea. Read more here.