'Captain Phillips' torn from the headlines, but tells an old story

Thu Oct 10, 2013 5:47pm EDT
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By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Paul Greengrass' new thriller, "Captain Phillips," is torn from the headlines, but the British director sees the story of an American ship captain's ordeal with Somali pirates as a timeless tale of poverty-stricken criminals and a run-in with the law.

"These young men get involved for the same reason that young men got involved in organized crime in the major cities of America in the '20s and '30s ... or Britain's highwaymen in the 18th century," Greengrass said in an interview.

"It's old history, isn't it, these stories? It took an old story and told it in a very new place," added the director, who is best known for "The Bourne Supremacy" film franchise.

"Captain Phillips" stars Oscar-winner Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips, whose cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, was seized by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa in 2009. Amid rave reviews and Oscar buzz, the real-life drama distributed by Sony's Columbia Pictures unit opens in U.S. cinemas on Friday.

Four Somali-Americans make their screen debuts as the pirates who kidnapped Phillips in the hope of a multi-million-dollar ransom, prompting U.S. President Barack Obama to send two U.S. Navy ships and a contingent of Navy SEALS to the rescue.

It was the first time Obama, then in office for just three months, had dispatched the SEALS on such a high-profile mission. Two years later, the same special forces unit, including some of the same men, undertook the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

Navy officers and others involved in the rescue, as well as Hanks, Phillips, Greengrass and Barkhad Abdi, who plays the lead pirate, attended a screening in Washington last week.

Greengrass, a former journalist, wanted the maritime saga to be balanced, telling an exciting story, but shedding light on the dire conditions in Somalia, an impoverished nation struggling for stability under a new government after decades of war.   Continued...

Actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson arrive for the European premiere of "Captain Phillips", on the opening night of the London Film Festival, at the Odeon Leicester Square in central London October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett