Captain Phillips

Capt. Gerald Coffee, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Professional Speaker, MidWeek Columnist

Where and with whom did you see the movie? I saw Captain Phillips with my wife, Susan Page, and sister at Pearlridge Consolidated Theaters.


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Captain Phillips

Overall, what did you think? Overall impression: very favorable. It is in the same category as Tom Hank’s other hits, Castaway and Forrest Gump (my all-time favorite film).

Without giving away the ending, what was one of your favorite scenes? Perhaps the most poignant scene is where Capt. Phillips is trying to understand the pirates and their motives. He says to the pirate leader, “There’s got to be something other than kidnapping people and fishing; you have to have other choices.” The young Somali pirate looks at Phillips almost pityingly; he has no idea. “Maybe in America.”

On a scale of one to four stars, what would you rate this film? It is easily ★★★★.

What did you think of the cinematography? Much of the intense action was in the cramped quarters of an enclosed lifeboat occupied by the captain and the four Somali pirates. The technical aspects of the cinematography in such conditions, with all characters in a very high emotional state, had to be very challenging … not to mention seasickness. The film provided considerable insight into the enervating daily poverty faced by the Somalis, which induced them to take such significant risks in hope of landing huge monetary ransoms. The film also revealed the nature of life aboard a giant container ship and the relationship between the captain and the crew.

Was the message/theme clear? For me, the message was not about the difficulty of asymmetric warfare against terrorists (pirates), but how – ultimately – it is winnable with our overwhelming edge in technology, sophisticated tactics and highly professional application. The operative word here is “overwhelming.” The pirates were simply overcome by the elements of the U.S. Navy trained specifically to fight them and their asymmetric tactics.

The greater message of the film is about the huge disparity of wealth in our world caused, in great part, by the warlords in backward countries that exploit the plight of the poor – using them for piracy, for example.

The film was totally realistic, intense, suspenseful and extremely well done.

To whom would you recommend this movie? Everyone who has even the slightest interest in the thought processes of Third World people and the issues of human desperation, and anyone who might doubt the professionalism and effectiveness of the U.S. Navy.

Did any of the actors stand out? Not surprisingly, the young Somali (Barkhad Abdi), who plays the role of the pirate leader Muse, is likely to be nominated for a “best supporting actor” Oscar and, in my opinion, most deservedly. From Minneapolis (the largest Somali community in America), he answered a TV ad for Somalis to try out for parts in the film, and judging from his performance, he turned out to be a natural. He attained the American dream that was a part of what all the pirates thought America is all about.

Did you identify with any of the characters? Yes, with Capt. Phillips. As a retired naval officer with command experience, I was particularly interested in his leadership style under extreme duress, his approach to the danger faced by him and his crew, and how best to defuse the emotional impulses of his kidnappers.

Did the soundtrack contribute significantly to the film? Absolutely. The sounds of the huge ship underway, the simultaneous chaotic outbursts of the pirates in the enclosed lifeboat, and the sounds of the U.S. naval forces arriving on scene were most effective.

On a different note, what’s new with you? The flick was a welcome break for myself and Susan from the fairly intense effort to republish my book Beyond Survival, which will have an updated postscript, many pictures and endorsements from both readers and POW friends such as Everett Alvarez, Orson Swindle and John McCain. It will be available from Amazon after Nov. 10.